That Was Sobering!
As many of us, in Southern Ontario, are aware… a large powerful storm just rolled through. Although the nature of this may not seem like a surprise to anyone who may read this from outside of this small part of the world for us this weather isn’t common or normal, but is becoming so. So how do I feel about this, and the culprits that caused it…...
Friday I had a long conversation with someone during which they brought up their concern with how most people are so reliant on their technology but have no real solutions for if the power goes out. This made me think of how I don’t have a radio for that situation anymore, but I’ll try to get more into that later. I already knew we were looking “forward” to some thunderstorms during this long weekend, I thought we might watch them by the large window in my apartment. Alas that would happen but it would not play out as relaxing as I had hoped. The weather went from being nice to dark very quickly, the only other time I remember seeing weather change like this was when I was visiting Florida as a child and a tornado caused a reasonable amount of damage close to where we were. As the dumb Canadians we all got in the minivan and went to the store to go shopping after, only to see the destruction when we got there. Things got dark, the sky looked green… I did not like what I saw and suspected the power would likely be going out, although I didn’t expect it would be in such spectacular fashion on the infrastructure side of things which I will also get into later. By the time it started to downpour and we were trying to close the windows the power was already flickering. And then… it was out! Before I even finished explaining to my 9 year old how I wasn’t as prepared as I would like to be for a power outage we were now in a power outage. The storm was down to a light drizzle not 5 minutes after that and basically non existent shortly thereafter.
Great.. So now what? Although I’m from a small town where the power going out regularly was normal. I am a city dweller now and the power almost never goes out and when it does it tends to be quick since I live in a downtown area with businesses. I don’t have candles, although getting some and holders has been on my list lately it’s just not THE priority knowing I have lights on a few phones I can power up with my car if I need to. Thankfully the cellular communications towers weren’t taken out so we still had data, although even that proved to show flaws the longer it went on… yet another thing to cover later. This time it’s the general public being dumb. My phone had a reasonable charge of around 60% and it has a decent sized batter so it gives me a lot of use. My 9 year old on the other hand was already realising keeping everything she owns almost dead constantly may not be a wise choice in the long run. I’m able to load up my local hydro provider (what we call electric companies here in Ontario, like bagged milk.. it’s a local thing confined to a few areas) where they had the information already there with outages so I at least knew it wasn’t just me, because I sure wasn’t going out to ask my neighbours haha. I still wasn’t sure what had caused it and was hoping it wasn’t a tornado… but the youngster and I could hear a lot of sirens from emergency vehicles from different areas around us. You can tell by how they lay on the horns and how aggressive the driver is on the throttle, with a motor that loud it’s easy to hear it, how bad the situation they are expecting might be. It didn’t sound good.
So all I know is things don’t sound great and the power it out.
Is it a hydro substation?
Maybe a transformer popped on a pole, a surprising amount of our infrastructure is still above ground here even in the areas they keep developing, or in a neighbourhood?
Maybe a tornado took down a few poles, since they are usually well kept when near homes and most of this city is developed and maintained? Right?
So now I go to Twitter thinking that will likely be my fastest way to find out what is happening, I was correct, but it wasn’t as fast as I would have liked. That said although nothing was on the feed yet a friend almost immediately sent me a pic of the culprit. Several main feed hydro lines had fallen over in the wind. Yes… main feed, around residential, stores, and even a large high school at that intersection.. you did in fact read that right. this is also something I will get more into later. So I think to myself “great…. that isn’t going to be a quick fix” but now it made sense why the power kept coming on and going off like someone had hit a power pole.. because the “wind” took a few of them. At this point I’m going to the spots I know I stash things like batteries and such, to my surprise my portable battery pack is almost fully charged and my Bluetooth speaker seems to have a charge as well so I turn it on, but turn it down to conserve power, and I think let’s check the local radio stations to see what they are saying about the issues from the local authorities. within about an hour I went from thinking the radio was a useful tool for information in an emergency to realising the recent cuts by both Bell and Rogers, some of which was ironically being complained about by local viewers on one of the prerecorded shows I came across, mean no one is there most of the weekend to report anything at all. No emergency messages through the system they annoy us with when it’s for a test but not when it’s an actual city, or province wide emergency. It was shameful the only warning I really got was the weather network spamming weather warnings within a minute or two of each other.
All in all I got lucky and my battery pack was charged, I had some food to get us by that didn’t need to be heated. Generally it wasn’t that bad for us outside of my daughter wanting to go to the park and me being too injured to take her once the weather got nicer. We coloured and such. With the energy companies website I was able to check things here and there and know a rough time as to when they expected to be finished. My 9 year old kept needing a reminder it wasn’t a definite time to count down to haha. I ended up sleeping to deal with the humidity and leg pain. Other parts of my province don’t seem to have been quite as lucky and many were without power for various reasons but usually all with the same root cause.
For others it wasn’t as nice.. there was far worse damage in other cities and our leaders should be ashamed of how this is playing out currently.
That said. To the emergency responding to emergencies and crews working to restore power and services through the weather… you are heroes. You are only fixing an inconvenience for me that can be life threatening for many others. I appreciate everything they did for us! The leaders on the other hand.. disgraceful. These people are struggling through years of infrastructure neglect.
now onto the issues
1. The First Issue – Lack of Publically Funded Communication Networks
What happened? Money.. As always money has happened. As someone who grew up pre-internet being the main communication form I understand how linked to me having power or a network of locations needing power for me to have a connection. In an emergency this is a bad way to do things. I am surprised, and very concerned, we don’t seem to have any real alternatives left anymore. This brings up the fact that letting corporations own local radio stations isn’t a good idea long term and has basically made them non existent along with many of our local newspapers as well. We NEED pubically funded radio and people need to have hand crank radios for an easy to power device we can even add things like a flashlight to. These are devices that exist but are useless now because the radio stations we rely on don’t really exist anymore.
2. The Second Issue – Mindless Poorly Educated, Inconsiderate, People
This has always been a problem in these situations. People often don’t think of others because we are trained to be capitalistic consumers at a very young age. We want to have more than the people around us, never ever less. Doesn’t matter if we need it, we WANT IT. With our phone systems, and electricity for that matter, people think the resource is unlimited because they can’t ever physically see the limits. As someone who has worked in that industry and climbed my butt up the towers to actually work with the equipment… I will tell you there is a very finite amount of data and even call capacity to go around. It’s a lot better than it was 20 years ago but is still more akin to the phone systems back then. When the power and cable would go out they would have regular notifications on the radio to tell people to try to keep off the phones to keep them open for actual emergencies and not to sit having conversations for hours to pass the time.
So data showed it’s ugly limitations when I ended up having difficulty even managing a consistent stream of audio for radio. Why? because people all jumped on their phones to watch Netflix. Usually that is throttled through a single home connection. For phones it’s not since a single household can have multiple sim cards and thus multiple unlimited connections vs the typical one we can just throttle all of them with. So they throttle all of us.. poorly.. which even made accessing some websites difficult such as Hydro to see the status of things. This is when I just went for a nap.
We NEED to be considerate and realise everyone else is also trying to do the same thing so try not to hog all of the data capacity with video streams.. listen to a podcast or something if you must.
3. The Third Issue – THE BIG ONE – Infrastructure Collapse Due To Neglect
Now this one is a doozy… but in general the infrastructure systems are all collapsing in North America. I see a lot of dams and roads showing that in the USA and here in Canada I have noticed it with our roads, water, and power infrastructure systems the most. I think we can all see the roads suck far more than they have in the last 30 years I can recall. In Ontario I’m sure everyone knows the Gardiner expressway fell apart due to years of neglect and deeming it too costly. Well now we are seeing this with our highway overpasses such as the 403. As for water the region I am in had to admit to not even budgeting for emergency repairs or long term maintenance of water infrastructure when they had to raise taxes to accommodate for it all. These are subjects for a different time but just highlight a much larger issue with our current leadership… they live in pretend bubbles that aren’t part of the real world and thus never plan accordingly for the real issues at hand.
So this brings me back to the more relevant state of the electrical grid. This bothers me because in 2003 we had the clear discussion around Ontario, Buffalo, and New York State when we all lost power due to the electrical grid being neglected for profit and thus causing the massive power outage. So why now am I watching major feed lines being blown over in the wind? I can’t say I didn’t notice how many of the poles around here are in terrible shape and we just prop them up.. In general it’s neglect when it comes to maintenance but also neglect when we engineer them in the first place. These are signs of an even bigger issue of Money doesn’t work and when we pretend it does it goes to the wrong people so we all pay for the issues over and over. Privatising Ontario Hydro was a MASSIVE mistake the Conservative set in motion and that the Liberals kept going.
This is an issue so big if we do not rectify it the coming more severe weather will bring our society to a screeching halt! Pretty much everything we currently do isn’t sustainable long term entirely by our own choices.
More on a personal front here
– Continue to work towards keeping more and more dry supplies that don’t require heat to be edible or cold storage to stay fresh. Ex. I usually have dry beans, tuna, and bread around.
– Make sure to check my battery packs and spare phones so they are charged, especially when I know a storm is coming.
– Possibly get a Radio, but we need to fix radio stations for it to be useful on off hours
– Possibly work on bringing up issue with local leaders regarding radio and infrastructure neglect
We have made a situation where climate change can still be sorted out, but given we aren’t doing much about it currently it seems we best start planning for the less pleasant aspects of it and neglecting our infrastructure just isn’t going to be an option in the coming years.