That time 911 called me

I’m on mobile, don’t hate me. Also, im sorry that this is a wall of text, if you know about the power grid you can skip a bit of it.

So during the winter of 2018 I worked for a power and natural gas company. It wasn’t too bad, there was an appointed utility commission requiring that employees work for at least 9 months before being allowed to work the gas emergency line, so they had motivation to treat you nice enough you’ll stay around. I had been there maybe 6 or 7 months when the worst polar vortex storm the state had seen in ages hit. Where I lived it was frequently hitting -25, staying at -27 or below for over a week. One of the linemen even died from the storms knocking a pole on his head or something.

Even the waffle houses closed. Waffle houses are so reliable Fema uses something called “the waffle house index” to rate disasters.

I was living close enough to work that they called me in a few times and all hours of the day over the weeks because the number of people who could arrive safely was small. It was fine, I had power the entire storm by some miracle and its not like there was anything else to do, the fat check would cover my own electric heating bill spike.

At the beginning our queue could be over 500 people, I genuinely had nightmares about it for days after. Normal people go to school without pants, I check our queue and find out its doubled in the last minute and now has 4 digits. Even so by day 3 or 4 it was mostly just shouting that we need to reconnect their power before anyone else because of any number of reasons, none of which changed the reality that we couldn’t do that.

The power grid is like a vascular system. If the end of the line isn’t getting blood it isn’t because the immediate juncture is stopped up. It could be 10 or 20x further away. So Karen in her cul de sac can scream all she wants about her dinner party being ruined, until we reconnect the main road back in town, that Karen and all the others relying on that station or transformer will be in the dark the same amount of time. This was compounded by weather and reconnection surges frying an entire second batch of equipment and causing a second wave of outages.

As a result the several state area this company covered had some patches that were out of power for over a week. Usually the out of the way rural patches get connected last because they have the smallest population impact. Unfortunately 911 relay stations are also usually out of the way a little bit.

So here I am, day 3 or 4 of working so much I considered using the office gym showers so I can just stay at the office and not drive in the scary blizzard, and I get the most memorable call I’ve ever had.

Me: thank you for calling power company, my name is EisConfused, how may I help you today?

Caller: so im not sure you can help, please let me know if you need to get a supervisor. My name is David or something and I am with major cellular company. We donate facilities to be used as 911 relays and switch boards, and the 911 branch in Minnesota town has a problem. See we have generators and fuel, but only enough for 86 hours. We are currently at about 76 hours without power. We have a fuel delivery being made on an emergency basis tomorrow, after they will have been out of power for about 90 hours. With this weather we need to remain active so our last ditch hope was to contact you guys and see what can be done.

Me, staring blankly at the address search screen trying to process this: well… let me put you on hold for just a second, I want to see if we have a protocol for..this..can I get the address of your building?

Caller: oh yeah absolutely, ask around, anything that may help. Our address is very Minnesota road in very mid west town

At this point I just mute and ask the girl next to me what the hell I do. The supervisors were beyond busy. Sometimes even taking calls themselves, but She had worked there for 5 or 6 years and just gave me a blank stare for a moment going “huh, thats new, call dispatch I guess. It is an emergency. Several actually.” I hop on the line, check to make sure an order to investigate the outage is already there, check in with the caller and get his callback line, all that, then call dispatch.

Dispatch: name with elec dispatch, whats the issue?

Me: so I know we don’t prioritize who gets reconnected b-

Dispatch: ya damn right we don’t!

Me: yes I understand that, but I have a fellow from 911 on my line. He says they’ve exhausted their options for keeping the lights on themselves. They won’t get fuel for the generator until they’ve been offline for several hours. That town was hit some of the worst, the last thing they need is to not be able to contact emergency services.

Dispatch: long pause okay I need to put you on hold.

A bunch of shouting into different rooms because he didn’t put me on hold or even mute me

Dispatch boss: this is dispatch boss, I hear you’ve got 911 on your line?

We go back and forth, I bring the cell rep into the call and hop around in the system getting our protocol stuff done, and letting my team lead know what’s going on. I never heard about the issue again, so I have to assume it worked out. Honestly I think that dispatch actually giving a hoot was more surreal than being called by 911. Those guys always sound like every request you make is like squeezing lemon juice in their eyes.

I wasn’t there that long and while this story is the best for telling at parties its not the only memorable incident. Let me know if I should cover that time someone threatened to kill themselves on my line before I was even out of training, or the guy who wanted us to come check his wall outlets because the thought his landlord was using them to dispense nanites into his brain that made him fall asleep and let robbers steal from him.

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