Compared to the nightmare fiasco 17-hour power outage Mesquite suffered in March 2017, the most recent 13-hour outage was a walk in the dark.
I appreciate that Overton Power District and the Mesquite Police Department kept the public somewhat informed about the outage and the ensuing forecasts for restoration throughout the day via text messages and emails. It was so much better and more comforting to have some information about the situation this time.
I also appreciate OPD General Manager Mendis Cooper’s written follow-up explanation of what transpired. It answered some of the questions the public had.
I mean that sincerely.
However, there is still more OPD has a responsibility to do. These aren’t nice-to-have things, but rather a necessity if OPD is serious about taking care of their customers. And none of them will require permission from BLM, Western Electricity Coordinating Council or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as Cooper explained he needed to build a redundant, secondary power line to Mesquite. These are quite simple fixes that are not expensive and easily implemented.
First, stop with the stupid Facebook idea as the only means of talking to someone at OPD. Towards the end of the outage, I received a message that advised me to contact OPD on Facebook if my power was still not restored. As with the last outage, I will say again – wrong idea. Many of us don’t use Facebook. Post a phone number via text or email for people to call and make sure someone at OPD is available to answer it.
The text and email messages received throughout the day were extremely well done and very helpful. Unfortunately, as soon as a small group of customers’ power was restored, the messages stopped altogether. I received the last message from anyone, OPD or the local police, at 5:38 p.m telling me to turn off my furnace. No, I’m not going to make a joke about that advice.
The power in my neighborhood was not restored until four hours later. That’s four hours without any communication, updates or information. Not acceptable. The updates should have continued until the very last person had their power restored – without having to rely on Facebook posts.
This next idea is not mine but it’s an awesome one with a slight change on my part. Previous city council candidate Karen Fielding suggested at the last council meeting that the city purchase back-up generators and create “comfort stations” at several locations like the senior center and recreational center. I would throw in the Sun City recreation center also.
That would give people a place to plug in their oxygen tanks, computers, cell phones, or any other devices (presumably to notify Facebook that they still didn’t have power) rather than having to go to casinos or grocery stores or gas stations.
By the way, I do appreciate that the public was notified at 12:35 p.m. that several retail, gas, and food outlets were open because OPD was able to bring in just enough power for them. I mean that sincerely.
And many people appreciated the casinos’ help in taking care of them during the outage.
However, I would like OPD to take Fielding up on her idea and also take responsibility for their customers rather than leaving it to the city. OPD should be buying the generators and working with the city to create the comfort stations throughout town. The public is pretty sure and so is OPD that we’ll continue to have prolonged power outages until a redundant second line is built.
The comfort stations could have numerous chairs, beds, and perhaps even food for those who need it. For those who need help, the stations could have fire department EMTs available for minor care with OPD footing the bill. And, by all means, allow people to bring their pets or else some won’t come at all.
As the police and fire department reported, they had purchased back-up generators to keep the traffic stop lights working. I could make the joke that people on their way to the casinos to plug in their oxygen tanks still had to contend with red lights, but I won’t.
The water district took on the expense after the 2017 power outage to purchase back-up generators for all their wells and treatment facilities. At least everyone had water.
Seriously, OPD and the police much improved their public outreach with this outage. I, and many others, appreciate their efforts. But there is still a lot to do before the next blackout that won’t take much work or money on OPD’s part.
After all, it’s part of their responsibility to take care of their customers.
Barbara Ellestad is a reporter for Mesquite Local News.