Dark clouds move in as a light drizzle begins to fall. I'm looking at a map of PG&E's service area on my computer screen with each of the service areas outlined. The whole map is currently colored blue, but as the storm gets heavier, I begin to see some areas turn green... yellow... orange... and when it gets really bad...red. The color sequence indicates the number of power outages in that particular area. With heavy rain, wind and snow moving in, trees and utility poles begin to fall, and can leave half a million to two million customers without power in a bad storm.
Within a few hours notice, I'm told to pack up a week's worth of extra clothes and am deployed out to support an electric crew traveling to the Peninsula coast in order to assist with the restoration effort. After working a straight 35-hour shift with the crew, we head to a local restaurant to have our first hot meal since starting our work. The restaurant was at capacity with a long wait, but the host recognized our uniforms and allowed us to skip to the front of the line so that we would be able to get back to our work. As we walked to our table, a couple of people passed us with one frustratingly saying to the other, "Why are they here eating? Shouldn't they be out there fixing our power?"
I sometimes think about that customer's comment and wonder if everyone feels the same way. But then I start remembering the more appreciative ones: when a customer came out of their home and served us coffee out of their own coffee mugs, when a store owner who was closing up gave us a pack of soft drinks, and the numerous others who came up to us to personally give thanks for the work that we did.
Although I realize that not everybody feels the same way, I do hope that as the next storm approaches, people realize the sacrifices that these electric crews make in order to restore power. They often travel in hazardous environments and predictably work in cold and wet conditions. With little advance notice, these men and women are called away from their family and friends, even during the holidays to work tirelessly in restoring our electricity.
With a Perspective, I'm Scott Lam.
Scott Lam is a field engineer for Pacific Gas and Electric.