Update: Yukon Energy Responds (see below). This is the first posting in what has become known as the Yukon Blackout Mashup & Feed Saga.
More than most, I am aware of power loss. Four Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs) scattered throughout the house shriek like pinched banshees at the first hint of a blackout. (I keep one just for the VCR so that I don't have to reset the clock.)
During the past summer at the College, we suffered a couple of outages on sequential weekends. Conveniently, the fellow who best understood the wiring and the backup scheme was Outside on vacation.
It seems as though Whitehorse has seen an increase in the frequency of these blackouts, ever since that chilly January Sunday of 2006.
But my evidence is purely anecdotal, and I generally know only of the outages that affect my house.
Inspiration struck: what if I could assemble a Google Maps mashup of Yukon power outages, with a timeline feature so that folks could see which areas have gone dark, when, and for how long? (This week's map of the San Diego fires gives one an inkling of what is possible.)
Brilliant! All I need is a complete blackout history from the territory's generating company, Yukon Energy.
Now, you may be surprised to find that Yukon Energy does not advertise its failures on its website. Yukon Electrical -- responsible for power distribution and, apparently, streetlights -- is no more forthcoming.
In trying to elicit this information from Yukon Energy, I made it no further than a PR flack's voicemail. My ostensible cover was that of a Yukon College employee (true, at the time) trying to size up the institution's UPS requirements in the face of future multiple power outages (pure fabrication, but it seemed a wholly reasonable request).
Upon his return, the wiring and backup fellow suggested organizing the various UPS owners scattered about town to submit their devices' data feed to a central point that could bundle it all together to the same effect. I barely had the energy to call Yukon Energy, so that option probably won't fly.
And there's one more sticky little issue: the map mashup won't work when the power's out.
Update, Oct. 24
As you'll see in the first comment, the "flack" to which I referred correctly chastises me for not giving Yukon Energy more chance to respond. Perhaps my mashup is possible after all. I'll keep you posted.
- PR Flack on 20071024.Wednesday:
Hi there. This is the PR flack at Yukon Energy who you refer to on your blog. I read your posting with interest. If you have questions for us, there's no need to fabricate an excuse to ask them...ask straight up and I'll answer you straight up. As for not advertising our power failures, I think you'll find that if there's a major outage, we usually put out a news release, which is posted on our web site. Earlier this year, I supplied reporters with detailed information about how many outages we'd had this year compared to last, and the causes for those outages. This information was reported in both local papers, so our record is no secret. Your suggestion for a mashup is an interesting one and I will give it some thought. I am a one person shop so the issue for me could be a lack of resources. In the meantime, if you have a beef against Yukon Energy, your time might be better spent talking to us about your concerns instead of bashing us on your blog.
- Dave on 20071024.Wednesday:
Beautiful! A reminder to all that public utilities are not necessarily faceless malevolent bureaucracies, but that some blogs can be.
- Geof Harries on 20071024.Wednesday:
All that I've been able to find on the Yukon News website is this article http://www.yukon-news.com/news/archives/17sep2007/3416/. Is this the correct number? 45 unplanned outages in 2007, compared to 35 throughout 2006. Of these, equipment failures caused 16 of the power outages. As for the suggestion that Dave not "bash" Yukon Energy on his blog but rather send private emails and make private phone-calls...well, all I can say is, welcome to the new reality of public relations. I'm by no means suggesting that everybody publicly criticize Yukon organizations rather than utilize private correspondence - that's a judgement call you need to make for yourself - but the approach Dave has taken isn't wrong, simply different. There's plenty of people who talk negatively about Yukon Energy at the water cooler and behind closed doors, but you don't hear or can't be involved in those conversations. Well, in this instance, you can. Isn't that empowering? The very fact that someone from Yukon Energy is reading Dave's blog (and presumably, Urban Yukon) shows that the corporation cares about its image and reputation. More-so, that YEC wants to listen, create a customer bond and is honest, progressive, transparent; y'know the good stuff that gets tossed about in expensive, four-colour, shiny print brochures. The difference is, here, in this venue, the words are real and raw. Behold, the power of the people.
- Dave on 20071025.Thursday:
Geoff, a couple of your points caught my attention: 1. For better or for worse, I've now been trained to use the blog to get results. Can't beat same-day response. 2. It is more than likely that the PR person in question found my blog through Urban Yukon (I didn't find any traffic in the logs explicitly from yec.yk.ca or yukonenergy.ca so I can't say for sure). That suggests that the PR job description entails scanning for news, positive or otherwise. And that, in turn, merely raises the effectiveness of point #1.