Twitter, #nopower, @comed, #comedrestored and @zaarlychicago: What to do next time

You may not know it, but Lake County, Illinois, which borders Wisconsin and Lake Michigan, got hit with a nasty storm Monday. I woke up a little before 8am and it was dark out like it was 11pm. A few minutes later, the rain came in buckets and the wind howled, taking some trees with it.

Oh, and it took the power, too.

Now, since being back home, I’ve become accustomed to random power outages. Even on perfectly clear, sunny days. It usually comes back within the hour, if not a few minutes. ComEd is not very forthcoming about where people sit on its grid, so I’ve taking to thinking that we sit at some intersection prone to outages whenever they’re doing work, or someone is doing work, near it a part that runs into us. I used to imagine a guy sitting at the intersection, watching the grid from each direction and flipping a switch when there was a hiccup. Hence our power would be out momentarily and then back on again.

Monday’s storm whipped the guy off his perch and took all the power in the area with it. Everything east of 294 was dark. Traffic lights. Great America. Gas stations. Restaurants. Hospitals. Doctors offices. Businesses of all kinds. And since the lightning hung around for awhile, ComEd crews couldn’t get out to start assessing the damage. Except it wasn’t just the lightning. Trees were down, everywhere, so getting out of a neighborhood, or even the house, was impossible. Pretty incredible.

Once the weather cleared, and crews were able to get out, people were able to get out. Kind of. We found ourselves in a disaster zone. And what are we to do, with #nopower and thus no Internet? Why turn to our smart phones and Twitter, of course! And this is where Twitter became incredibly useful, and it has been pretty awesome to see ComEd (@comed) embrace it, too. I hope they’ll examine this and integrate Twitter with their reporting systems. Was easier and more responsive than calling their 800 number, which is only helpful if you have your account number.

While all the media attention has been on social media being used to organize protests, street or flash mobs and unruly behavior, we used it to help notify ComEd of outages, downed wires and problem areas, as well as when and what areas had been restored. It was clear the outage was massive, but Twitter provided the opportunity to see how massive, and track restoration efforts. This is huge, as Comed’s map is as general as you can get. Sure, it’s helpful to see the numbers go down, but the map doesn’t tell you where power has been restored. In other words, the map doesn’t tell me what part of Gurnee has power and what part doesn’t. So I couldn’t tell if Gurnee Mills had power unless I called or drove over. Or used Twitter.

And it was from Twitter that I learned that west of 294 had power, so Panera and Caribou Coffee were OK. That meant food, coffee, water and a working bathroom. After 2 days of #nopower, you really do appreciate such things!

The other tool that I don’t think got as much use but very well might next storm we get. And we’ve had 4 storms like this already so another one soon is not out of the realm of possibility. And 2 of those 4 times, we lost power. So next storm, check out Zaarly (@zaarlychicago).

It’s kind of like Craigslist, for lack of a better description, but it plots requests on a map of your area and lets you respond and post with incredible ease. You post what you want, and name your price. As more #comedrestored tweets showed up, it struck me that Zaarly is an excellent way to connect those people with those who still have #nopower. Bottled water. Batteries. Candles. Heck, even a tent, sleeping bag, gas or even a generator.

And now that many of us are in clean up mode, using Zaarly to help with that strikes me as useful. I was out picking up debris in our yard last night, we can practically build another forest with all the tree parts, and I found myself thinking: this would go faster if we had a leaf sucker-upper. And how would I get it? Zaarly it!

So this experience has been a lesson in 21st century preparedness:

  • Tweet from your smartphone
  • Use a tag like #nopower
  • Follow a good news tag like #comedrestored
  • Use Zaarly to find/ask for stuff until power returns, and use it again to help cleanup

Keep those in mind next time severe weather knocks you back to the 19th Century.

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3 Responses to Twitter, #nopower, @comed, #comedrestored and @zaarlychicago: What to do next time

  1. Chris Wray says:

    Well written post, Gwynne. Your sentiments echo my own essay just posted this morning! http://t.co/YeSGgcj.

  2. Well written G…happy you #havepower again!

  3. Gwynne Monahan says:

    Thanks for the comment Chris! It was quite a week, no?

    Like you’re post as well. That’s a great shot of the vehicles on the road. By Thursday, there were trucks from all over the US! Saw a couple all the way form Alabama helping out. Impressive response.

    I kind of think @comed has been taking a beating. I don’t think people have an understanding of what exactly tree limbs twisted in power lines looks like, and how difficult it is to undo that in order to fix downed lines, not to mention replace poles and lines. Given the circumstances, I think @comed did a good job, and I’m impressed with their Twitter response. Granted, utilities rank half a rung above insurance companies, but when something is done well given the circumstances, give credit where credit is due.

    Sounds like I have another blog post on the subject. 😉

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!

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