Talking With Two Utility Linemen

Two linemen from BG&E had to get onto my property to restore the power lines to my neighbors garage apartment. While they were doing the work I took them some cold bottled water and chatted them up about their experience working on the post-Ike recovery here in Texas. They tell about what-you-would-expect in terms of a tale of chaos theory.

They were working restoring power for Entergy customers in another area last week. Come Sunday they were done and so wondering where they’d go next. Centerpoint didn’t get around to accepting their help until 11pm Sunday night, at which point they were instructed to gather at the Humble Civic Center parking lot Monday morning.

They reported to the Humble Civic Center and waited as directed….all day, without word of what they were supposed to do. It was Tuesday (ie today) before they were sent down into the Woodland Heights to further restoration efforts here.

Even their nightly lodging has been in question from day-to-day!

All signs indicate that Centerpoint management is not coping with their circumstance. The line crews are doing their jobs and then some. Long days, hard work, every man. But management need to jump from the early 1990s to the present day. Time for new blood in the business suites.

Consider the maps that they used to give the public a measure of the outage area/restoration effort. You can find them here. They’re worthless.

Centerpoint PDF Map
Centerpoint PDF Map Power Restored By Zip Code

…and the other….

Centerpoint Outage Areas
Centerpoint Outage Areas

The trouble is that they don’t show any meaningful detail at all. Just large tracts of color indicating generally what’s going on, but nothing specifically. Further, publishing PDFs twice a day for fast changing data is entirely inappropriate. Might as well dispatch carrier pigeons.

It’s as if they’re handing their corporate communications with an early 1990’s style in-house PR team and trying to spin the data. After all, it sounds a lot better to say “we restored 1000 homes with power today” than the reality of “we still have 99% of home without power.” Texas-New Mexico Power tried that early on, telling us how many customer were restored in absolute numbers, glossing over the fact that >99% were off-grid.

Centerpoint eventually stopped publishing these maps altogether and gave only a listing of restoration expectation by zip code. Again as a PDF. I bet they don’t even have their own in-house web staff. How incredibly lame.

What they should have done is mashed up a Google Maps overlay that cross referenced a database of  power status for each property. That way homeowners would be able to zoom down to their block and see what was being done near them. They’d be able to update the data dynamically from the field.

Of course, that kind of a mash-up requires a marketing/corp communications dept that’s solidly in the 21st century. I’ve passed them some suggestions via the form on their web site. I’ll be sending them to the Texas Public Utilities Commission as well.

My initial impression of Centerpoint management came from watching their front-man Floyd Leblanc on KHOU-TVs town hall meeting show on the weekend. This guy looked like a deer-in-the-headlights-of-a-bucket-truck. He didn’t appear to know what was happening or when.

Just stay calm and spout the party line. Yeah, right.

We have a right to expect more from regulated monopolies. Even if it starts by demanding more from the regulators.