In Monday’s meeting of the Claremore City Council, shortly after Electric Utility Director Larry Hughes and his crew were lauded for working 24 hours straight restoring power following a recent storm, Ward 4 Councilor Will DeMier brought up an email exchange that occurred between himself and an unnamed citizen.
“As a city councilman I live in Claremore and my electricity was off also,” DeMier said, introducing the subject of the exchange. “My goal, when I get an email from somebody that is disgruntled, I make an attempt to try to answer it the best I can.”
Quoting the email from the citizen DeMier said “Why isn’t there a place on the city of Claremore webpage that gives the estimated time of day that power will be restored in a major power outage?.”
DeMier responded “Good question. I’m going to forward this to the city manager, the assistant city manager and the person who is in charge of electricity. I will let you know as soon as I know something. Thanks, Will.”
After he collected information from the appropriate sources he said that he wrote back to the citizen:
“I hope the following will answer your question. In major storm outages the variables are so vast that it is difficult to know the estimated time for electricity to be back on. The storm yesterday had approximately 4,000 people with electricity off. In three hours, the city had about 3,500 of those people back on. But the remainder were multiple broken poles because of entire tree being blown over and it took longer.
“Most electric companies will give only give outage restoration numbers if it is a small, isolated outage. The problem is, if the city posted, for example, ‘In three hours your electricity will be back on,’ then that would be fine for the above 3,500 people. But again, it would merely be a guess at a three hour time span.
"But if it was posted three hours, then 500 customers with no electricity would be angry because their electricity was not on after three hours. As you know, I am not an electric expert. I agree with you, it would be nice to know when it is going to be back on. But I think it would merely be a guess and then make people more angry. My electricity was also off yesterday. Thanks, Will.”
“Why I’m saying all this is because of the response,” DeMier said to the council and citizens in attendance. “I may irritate the unnamed citizen, but it is insulting.”
DeMier then read aloud the final email from the citizen, which said, “I do realize the city cannot see the future even know all the confounding influences. They do know where their outages are if they have a crew working, and if not when a crew may be available, i.e., ‘A crew will be available when work is completed at 17th and Sioux’. As it is, we get very little. Your answer boils down to ‘We aren’t going to tell you anything.’ P.S. I don’t consider this confidential.”
DeMier took a deep breath after reading the email before speaking again.
“Well, it isn’t confidential. I don’t know if that is a tacit threat that they are going to post it somewhere or tell somebody. I don’t care. They can post it anywhere they want,” he said. “The point is, I gave a response.”
DeMier said that as a citizen he agrees that it would be nice to have online notification about when power might be restored.
“We would love that, but they can’t,” he said. “I responded to this email. I believe I gave a rational, logistic and polite response. And at the end ‘P.S. I don’t consider this confidential’,” DeMier said.
“I hope the citizens of Claremore realize what a good job that Claremore Electricity is doing,” DeMier said in conclusion, reemphasizing the improbability for the Claremore Electric Department to accurately predict when power could be restored.
When DeMier finished Hughes explained some of the delay crews faced.
“One of the incidents that happened out there was two broke polls because of a large tree that came down,” Hughes said.
The crew called in emergency locates, which typically are given two hours to respond to help the electric crew find gas, cable and water lines before they start digging. However, with crews on site and polls rigged and ready to go at the one hour and 45 minute mark, the locators called and said that due to massive storm damage throughout green country, they wouldn’t be able to make it to Claremore until 2 a.m., four hours later.
“If we gave a time for those 150 customers at that particular point, we would have been considered liars, and that is not a good thing,” Hughes said.
“Would they rather us tell them it’s going to be 8 to 10 hours?”, asked Ward 2 Councilor Brian Callender. Callender’s power was out for 10 hours.
Ward 1 Councilor Susan Kirtley said that while her power didn’t go out, her cable did, and when the company didn’t have the issue fixed by the time they said they would she was more upset than she would have been otherwise.
Both DeMier and City Manager Jim Thomas highlighted that while there were some complaints, several people called the city to express appreciation for the electricity department getting power restored as quickly as they could.
There was an update on the City of Claremore Government Facebook page at 8 a.m. on July 31 which said, "Crews have been working throughout the night, some for 16+ hours, to restore all power. There are still about 300 meters out. We understand for those who are still without power how inconvenient this has been and we appreciate your patience. It is hard to estimate a timeline with an outage like this ... If you have reported your outage to the outage hotline within the last 3 hours we are aware of your outage and working as quickly as possible, while remaining safe."