What happens when government aid doesn't go where it's supposed to?
Guest Host: Rebecca Roberts
We talk with local officials and experts helping the region respond to Friday’s storms, power outages and the sweltering heat.
- Veronica Johnson NBC4 Meteorologist
- David McKernan Emergency Management Coordinator, Fairfax County, Va.
- Ken Barker Vice President of Consumer Solutions, Dominion Power
- Thomas Graham President, Pepco Region
- Vincent Gray Mayor, District of Columbia (D)
Power Outages And Utility Contact Information
Report outages, downed wires and life-threatening emergencies (telephone): 1-877-737-2662
Report outages and check repair status: 1-866-366-4357
Baltimore Gas and Electric
Report outages and check repair status: 1-877-778-2222
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, Washington is out of the frying pan of an epic storm today but right back into the fryer of an epic heat wave.
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSMillions of the region's residents lost power on Friday after a destructive system storm called a Derecho ripped through the area, and power companies have warned that thousands of them aren't likely to get their power back any time soon all while temperatures continue to sore to brutal heights, creating life-threatening situations for many of those without access to air-conditioning.
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSThe region's power companies are scrambling to restore electricity, and public officials are scrambling to respond to the health and security concerns resulting from the brutal heat and damaged infrastructure. We're joined now by the mayor of the District of Columbia, Vincent Gray. As we've discussed, public officials scrambling to respond, Mayor Gray, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYGood morning. How are you? Or good afternoon.
ROBERTSDo you have power in your house?
GRAYI don't. In fact, to be honest with you, every time we have an outage, my area of the city seems to be affected negatively, and, once again, we are.
ROBERTSAnd I understand you just got off a plane from China late last night.
GRAYI did. We had a trade mission that we planned for months, and I got back last night. It was a very successful trip, and we're going to look forward to talking about that in some detail later this week. But, of course, as the trip wound down, we had the situation that occurred here in the city.
ROBERTSAnd how are you staying in touch with your team here while you were on the road?
GRAYWell, we, fortunately, with technology being what it is, we were able to do that with telephone communication and also with email and text messages. So the moment this started, I was in touch with them. We decided, as Maryland and Virginia did, to declare an emergency given the confluence of the heat wave and then the storm that created the power outages all across the metropolitan Washington area. So I was involved in this every step of the way.
ROBERTSAnd knowing that you had to, you know, hit the ground running, that you were facing a city with major needs coming back, what was, you know, the list that you got off the airplane with? What are the most essential things to have happened?
GRAYWell, of course, the most essential thing was the fact that we have these power outages. We have as many as 64-, 65,000 customers who are without service, which is a huge number here in the District of Columbia. And so trying to work with Pepco to get the, you know, the power restored. And then, of course, the effects, we have so many vulnerable populations. We have seniors. We have people with disabilities that we serve.
GRAYWe have our nursing homes. So it was looking to make sure that we address the issues, you know, with them. We -- for example, we have a plan. We actually spend time with exercising on such instances. You know, when we have snow emergencies, we've actually worked to plan, you know, for those and the same thing with the situation like this so that we aren't completely without some experience doing this.
GRAYBut we initially wanted to focus on the Baltimore populations. We opened cooling centers all across the city. We extended the hours of our pools. We even worked to start getting the debris off the streets. Our Department of Public Works, for example, has already moved 128 tons of debris, you know, tree limbs, trees down, what not across the state.
GRAYAnd, frankly, if, you know, we could Pepco to deal with some of these wires that are down, we could get to those trees off the streets as well, but we can't have our workers touching those trees while you may have live wires running through, you know, intertwined with them.
ROBERTSAnd given the trees in the road and stop lights that were out, how did you feel about the commute this morning? Did that go pretty well?
GRAYWell, it's going well. Again, we'd like to move more quickly, and we can move more quickly if Pepco can get these wires, these downed wires, which are dangerous, of course, get them addressed. Once we get those live wires addressed, we'll get the rest of the trees out. We even pressed into service our fire and EMS service to be able to clean up trees. We've got Public Works, of course, and it's actually a great team effort that is underway. And I'm very proud of the team that's been working on behalf of our city through our government services.
ROBERTSAnd Thomas Graham, the regional president of Pepco, is here in the studio. We're going to talk to him in just a second. Do you have sort of a triage list for them given the enormity of the task they have this week?
GRAYWell, you know, we want -- obviously, we want everybody's service to be restored as quickly as they possibly can. And then I think we've got to sit down. I'd love to see a meeting across the region, to sit down and talk with our colleagues in Prince George's and Montgomery County and Northern Virginia to the extent they're involved in this and talk about how we get to another place because, obviously, we've had a lot of power outages, and I'd love to be able to see us get to a place where we start talking about not how we get power quickly restored but how can we prevent this in the first place.
ROBERTSYou know, power outages and potential local emergencies are the kind of things that really can help or hurt a local official when it comes to election time. You know, you've got slammed during your very first month in office. There was that one nightmare commute. How do you feel the region dealt with this one? Do you think it was prepared? Do you think the city was ready?
GRAYOh, I think we were prepared. I don't have any questions about that. And again, you had the confluence of a heat wave, you know, along with the power outages. Again, people are going to look at whether their power was restored or not. You know, I wish they would look at it more broadly, but they're not. They're going to look at it in terms of whether their power was restored, and that's Pepco issue. And that's why we want to try to get to a point where we're looking at preventing this in the first place rather than having to figure out how we quickly restore power.
ROBERTSMayor Vincent Gray, thank you so much for joining us on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
GRAYThank you very much.
ROBERTSI'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and we are talking about the power outage and the storm and the heat wave and the aftereffects. You can join us by calling 800-433-8850. You can email us, email@example.com. You can also get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending us a tweet to @kojoshow. We are joined now by Thomas Graham. He is the regional president of Pepco. Welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for being here.
MR. THOMAS GRAHAMThank you. Appreciate the invitation.
ROBERTSWe had to let the mayor go, but let me give you a chance to respond to him.
GRAHAMWell, let me just give you the update on where we stand. We started off with about 443,000 customers out of service from a very significant storm, winds 75 miles an hour. The challenges that we face right now are just devastation to our system. It was a catastrophic event. It's something we cannot control. We control -- we can control our response and how we restore service, but unfortunately, we cannot control the weather.
GRAHAMYou know, I ask our customers to be patient through the process and also to be safe. There are a lot of downed wires. Right now, we're close to about 1,800 downed wires that have been reported throughout the area. And it's just not a District of Columbia situation. It's a situation that's taking place in Prince George's County and Montgomery County. And to be quite honest, that storm started in the Midwest, and about 4.3 million customers had been impacted by a multiple -- through multiple utilities.
GRAHAMBut what we're working on now is bringing in mutual assistance crews. We've gone through our damage assessment phase. There were some substations that the supply feed was damaged in the process. We've been able to do that work. We've been able to restore service to the hospitals. Several hospitals are out. We're working at WSSC, so some of the critical care facilities.
GRAHAMWe're also looking at restoring service to a lot of public safety facilities and also nursing homes and senior living centers. It's quite a task, but it's good to know that we have some crews coming in today, about 365, another 350 coming from across the country.
ROBERTSWell, let me ask you that...
ROBERTS...about that because this mutual assistance, usually, you get help from Pennsylvania, Ohio...
ROBERTS...they all have the storm, too.
GRAHAMThey all had the storm, too. Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Delaware, Jersey, they were all impacted by this storm. So that's why we have to go to Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, and as far away as Canada, to bring in resources to help with this restoration effort. Certainly, I can appreciate the mayor's concerns, but when we're looking at the amount of damage to our system that's all over the service territory, all over the 640 square miles that we serve, it is quite a challenge.
GRAHAMBut we are partners in the process. We've been in very close contact with Allen Lew and Paul Quander and Terry Bellamy, and they've been supportive through the process. And they understand the challenge that's before all of us because we're all in this together. We've also been working very closely with Prince George's County, Montgomery County governments, too.
GRAHAMSo that's the only way this works is that we work together as a team. It's very ironic that a couple of days, earlier last week, we had a press conference on hurricane preparedness. Now, this hasn't been marked as a hurricane, but if you recall from last year, Hurricane Irene, we had about 220,000 customers out of service, this doubled what we had out of service. So I don't know what it is, but I hope it never comes back to this area again.
ROBERTSWell, you know, I mean, everyone heard the storm. We see the trees across the road. We, as locals, understand the scope of it. I don't think anyone expected all lights to be on, you know, an hour later. But when people call and get a report, you know, a recording saying your power will be restored July 6, and it's sort of -- people might be forgiving for maybe thinking that things aren't happening as quickly as they should be.
GRAHAMYou know, I can appreciate that. I think we ought to start with the premise that no customer ever wants to be out of service. And then when you get a message and the message that was delivered to allow customers to appropriately plan their lives, we evaluated the type of damage that we had, the resources that we have, the resources that we'd be able to bring in. We initially asked for about 1,000 mutual assistance crews.
GRAHAMAnd our first swipe, we were only able to receive 175 to 200 'cause all the places that we normally go, they need their contractors, and that process is continued. But it is, you know, I certainly understand the frustration of our customers being out of service, but the reassurance that there about 2,700 personnel right now working 16-hour shifts, 24 hours a day to restore their service quickly and safely, that should be some assurance. But as soon as we can get this knocked out, we will.
GRAHAMSo the Friday message at 11 p.m. is for the vast majority of our customers, so at least 90 percent of those are going to be restored. There is so much damage as I've gone through the city and through the counties that for some of those customers their service will not be able to be restored until the weekend. So Wednesday evening, we'll be updating the estimated times of restoration for those customers.
GRAHAMBut I completely understand the frustration, but knowing that with the assistance of our partners at the state level and also with the District of Columbia, we're going to restore the services quickly and safely as possible.
ROBERTSLet's take a call. This is George in Clinton, Md. George, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
GEORGEHey. How are you doing? Mr. Graham, this is the second time I talked to you on this station about your company. Now, I give it to you, this storm was bad, and nobody expected our electricity to stay on if it was a bad storm. But I'm sorry you managed to not pass the ball on this one storm. In Clinton, my -- this is the third time, my electricity has been off. And it's just little storms that cut my electricity off. That's when I talked to you.
GEORGEI told you when somebody sneezes, the electricity goes off. Well, now I'm going to tell you when somebody has (unintelligible) the electricity goes off in my neighborhood. And, two, I'm sorry, man, there's something wrong with your company. You can't just blame this on a bad storm. It's -- there's something wrong, man. You guys aren't holding up your end, and you want to raise increase. You want to raise our bill? Do you want to raise this, man? The job is not getting done. I'm going to say to you...
ROBERTSAll right, George...
GEORGEHold on, hold on. I'm going to say it again, Tommy, do not pass this on this one storm. Do not do it.
ROBERTSAll right. I want to give Mr. Graham a chance to respond, George. Thanks so much for your call.
GRAHAMGeorge, thanks for the call. You know, over the last two years, we've been executing a reliability plan. There are two parts to it. One part was process improvements, and process improvements really address how we respond to an event like this. Again, we can't control the weather. We just respond to what happens. We've tried to be more efficient. We improve our communications. Examples of that would be the smart app. The customers can report their outages on today. That's of great benefit.
GRAHAMOur websites have been enhanced. You can also report outages in that manner. The way we restore service, we've improved that as well. The second part of that is what we've been really focused on is we made an investment over the next five years of $910 million on infrastructure improvements. And those investments are starting to pay off on a daily basis. For duration, we've seen an improvement of 59 percent -- I'm sorry, 56 percent, and for frequency of outages, 39 percent. So a lot of that has to do with tree trimming. We've trimmed over 4,000 miles of tree line.
GRAHAMOver the last couple of years, we replaced several hundred miles of cable. There's a lot of distribution automation that's gone in place. We've also put in -- we started to install smart meters. We're almost done with that process in the District of Columbia. There is -- unfortunately, there is not much I can do about a storm like this. There's not much I can do about a storm like we had last week. We had a microburst where we lost over 40,000 customers when you had winds 90 to 100 miles an hour. There just is not a system built to withstand an impact from the environment of that nature.
ROBERTSBut I think George's point was that this wasn't a one-time thing, that he might give you a pass on a storm this size, but that his power is unreliable, and that there's a, you know, about a year-and-a-half, The Washington Post published a report that Pepco customers lose power and wait longer for service to reconnect than most major U.S. cities. And he's right.
ROBERTSThere is a public information campaign going on from Pepco right now to try to spread the word about tree trimming and other investments you've made in preparation for this rate increase you've asked for. And so what about that point that it's not just this one storm? He thinks your service isn't up to the task.
GRAHAMWell, listen. Oh, first, I'd like to say it's not a public relations campaign. The work we're doing, that $910 million...
ROBERTSI said public information, but, yeah.
GRAHAMOK, public information. That $910 million that we're investing is real money, and those are real projects. And that work has taken place each and every day.
ROBERTSBut you're -- I'm not saying the works not taking place. But the reason you're publicizing it and spending the money to put out public service announcements about it is to let people feel better about Pepco.
GRAHAMWithout question. You know, a couple of years ago, there were some storms that hit the system. As we continued to evaluate that, it was -- the determination was made there wasn't a deep enough investment made. And on a daily basis, we needed to improve reliability for our customers, and that's exactly what we have been doing. Is it going to take overnight? We never said it was going to take overnight. It's a long process. We're at it every day.
GRAHAMThere are projects that are taking place throughout Montgomery County and the District of Columbia and Prince George's County each and every day. And -- but they will take time. Storms like this, they're a little bit different. They're catastrophic. But day to day, our customers are already starting to see an improvement, and I will certainly pay close attention to Clinton, Md. to see what projects we have going on. But I know we have projects in every part of our service territory.
ROBERTSThis is, of course, a logistical issue, a, you know, engineering issue, all of the sort of physical things that need to happen to get power back on. It's also a political one. There is this rate increase sitting out there. How do you think this storm affects that?
GRAHAMI'm not sure it has an effect. You know, right now, we're focused on restoring service for our customers. The rector is closed for those particular -- there's particular proceedings in the District of Columbia and Maryland.
GRAHAMIt's not at the forefront of our thoughts right now. The forefront of our thoughts is restoring service to our customers.
ROBERTSLet's take -- I know you need to -- you've got a very busy day ahead of you. But let's take one more call. This is Ryan in Derwood, Md.
ROBERTSRyan, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
RYANHi. Thank you. I was -- because you had Mayor Gray on here, I had a former client of mine that used to live in China for a great deal of time, about 10 years. They have gotten all their power lines underground. As I'm aware, most other industrialized countries in the world have. And I'm wondering, since, you know, Pepco is a utility that pays a dividend to its shareholders, I wonder when are the shareholders going to take a backseat to their dividend?
RYANAnd when are you going to reinvest that money into putting most of these power lines, retrofitting them and putting them underground to where you're going to solve the long-term problem instead of continually putting a Band-Aid on things and cutting down limbs that are possibly going to take the lines out?
ROBERTSRyan, thanks for your call. This comes up every storm.
ROBERTSWhy not just bury the lines?
GRAHAMWell, we've looked at that and the District has looked at it, in particular, and I believe the last figure was about $4 billion -- that's billion with a B -- to underground the system in the District of Columbia. Other studies have indicated to be about one to $3 million per mile. Other jurisdictions have looked at this particular issue, and none of them have moved forward to underground their entire network because the determination was made the benefits do not justify the cost.
GRAHAMNow, what we are looking at is selective undergrounding. When we've done everything that we possibly can to improve the quality of power for our customers, the reliability of service, and that has not been effective, then we have looked at selective undergrounding. But to underground the system, I imagine it would probably go one, maybe two decades to do, and it's very expensive to do.
ROBERTSSo if burying the lines is not practical or affordable or feasible for a lot of reasons, and you've already done a lot of tree trimming -- you just talked about the investment you put there -- what are other things you can do? What can you invest in to -- obviously nothing you can do about a storm this size, but short of a storm this size, what can you do to make the power more reliable?
GRAHAMWell, we're doing those things now. We're doing the tree trimming. We're doing -- there's a lot of equipment that's being replaced. There's a lot of cable that's being replaced. If you go to our website at pepco.com, under reliability, you can see the reliability enhancement plan for each jurisdiction. There's about six steps in that process. Distribution automation is something that can minimize the duration of time that a customer will be out of service.
GRAHAMSo if a tree would strike a line, instead of 1,100 customers being out, we can reroute service, so only 200 customers may be out of service, and that can take place in less than a minute. So that's the technology that we're putting in place, but the steps that we're taking now are the steps that, you know, we feel are going to be most effective down the road. But we're in year two of a five-year plan, so we're going to continue to push forward with a lot of these projects.
GRAHAMAnd, you know, over time, our customers are really going to see the difference. It's just unfortunate that these type of weather events, they are out of our control, are hitting our system, are hitting Baltimore Gas Electrics territory. They lost several hundred thousand customers. At one time, Virginia had, as I recall, about 1 million customers. They're out of service. So this is catastrophic event, and we're all just responding to it in the best way we can.
ROBERTSThen we're going to have a representative on from Dominion Power coming up in the next half hour. In the short term, so you're still hoping 90 percent of Pepco customers up and running by 11 o'clock Friday night with maybe the last hardest cases lasting into the weekend?
GRAHAMThat's correct. And then we will provide estimated time for those customers. We'll start populating that system on Wednesday. So we would encourage you to use the outage map. We encourage you to use the -- our website and encourage you to use the 1877-Pepco-62 number. But the last message, the most important message I can leave you is watch out for downed wires. As the mayor mentioned, they are all over the cities or all over the territory.
GRAHAMThe large trees that have fallen have destroyed our infrastructure, and it brought those lines down. There are about 1,800 that have been reported thus far. And every line should be considered energized, and every individual should stay away from them. I've seen a lot of taped up areas where residents have gone into the tape, and they wanted -- have their picture taken next to the tree that fell. But I can tell you that there are lines all over, and they should stay away from those. So that's really the most important message I can leave with you at this time.
ROBERTSAnd is there, just quickly, as these mutual assistance groups come in today from us far away as Canada...
ROBERTS...is there a possibility that that Friday night estimate will be revised? Should people hope for that?
GRAHAMYou know, we're going to do all we can. You know, the goal is to restore service quickly, but the goal is also restore service safely. It's real work. It's hot outside. We're working round the clock. They're 16-hour shifts. But there is so much damage, and it's so labor intensive, there's so many snapped poles, there's so many wires to untangle from trees, it really is going to take a community effort, the government, Pepco, the other utilities, other agencies and also the customers understanding.
ROBERTSThomas Graham, the regional president of Pepco. Thank you so much for being here.
GRAHAMSure. My pleasure. Thank you.
ROBERTSI'm Rebecca Roberts, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We are going to take a quick break, but we'll be back to discuss more of the storm and the power outages including why the storm was so destructive, then taking your calls, 800-433-8850. Or email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We are talking about Friday's storm and the subsequent power outages and the ongoing heat wave this week while about half a million people in the region still remain without power coming this week. We just talked to the mayor of Washington and a representative from Pepco. We are now joined now by Ken Barker. He's vice president of customer solutions for Dominion Virginia Power. Welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MR. KEN BARKERThank you for having me. I truly appreciate it.
ROBERTSHow many of your customers are still without power, and when do you expect them to be back on line?
BARKERWe've got -- at our peak, we'd lost about 540,000 here in Northern Virginia. We've got about 160,000 customers out as we speak. Critical infrastructure back in. Most of the main lines back in. I'm here right now as we speak with the crew in Alexandria off Aberdeen Street, and I'm watching them take off a huge tree off a line that's feeding 50 customers, going to take probably two days to rebuild these circuits back in here.
BARKERSo our effort over the next few days obviously is back in these subdivisions. It's going to be -- the vast majority will be on by Saturday. If we find some more pockets of catastrophic damage, could go into Sunday. But I expect most customers will have their power by late Saturday.
ROBERTSAnd what are you hearing from your customers? I can't imagine they're all that happy.
BARKERSay that again, please.
ROBERTSAnd what are you hearing from your customers? Are -- lots of complaints, lots of fear?
BARKERWell, there is. I mean, it's, you know, it's lack of control, and I completely understand that. It takes away all the modern conveniences. I -- again, just a few minutes ago, we were out with customers in this neighborhood. And, you know, I feel for them. There was an elderly woman that, again, I could tell was struggling in this heat. And, you know, my commitment to her was we'll work around the clock. A lot of these linemen we have, we have 4,200 resources, literally have to force them to come in and take rest.
BARKERAnd we have dedicated folks. The numbers have dropped nicely, but, frankly, it means nothing to the one person that's still out at the end of the storm. So, you know, I told her our commitment is we will not stop until we get the last customer on. Also, I told her about tonight. We've got 700 additional Canadians coming in to one of our forts here in Northern Virginia that's been nice enough to give us some space. And we'll welcome them in, add to our workforce, so probably pushing 5,000 when they come in tonight.
ROBERTSNow, as someone who has seen, you know, different weather events, different power outages, what did you think about this storm? Is it off the charts extreme?
BARKERI mean, it was massive. I mean, it was an explosion. There's this huge tree that I'm looking at now in this customer's backyard, she said she was inside, and she felt the earth move literally when this tree crushed her little Subaru that I'm staring at. And when you put it in perspective for Dominion, Dominion's been operating 100 years in Virginia. This is the largest non-hurricane storm we've ever restored.
BARKERIt was literally just an explosion which brought down large trees, which tore our facilities down. So massive, yes, but our job is to get out here and get power back on. And that's what our focus is.
ROBERTSWe have an email from Nan in Falls Church, who says, "Why don't you post estimated restoration times?" And she also says, "Your outage map does not provide sufficient information. When will you the update the software so it shows actual addresses and not just yellow and blue dots? There's no way to know which dot is your address."
BARKERWell, a couple things that we do -- typically, we've got to get the main lines back in, the system somewhat stable, understand the circuitry we're going to be using, and it takes a few days to do that. It's going to be the, you know, probably over the next few days before we get individual restoration times. We learned from the past that it's worse to give inaccurate times than it is to give them at all. So we want to make sure those times are accurate. Our customers will be seeing those over the next few days.
BARKERAs far as the Dominion viewer and the information we have on the Internet, you know, we -- a couple things customers can do. They can call in and get the restoration times that will be available shortly, or they can go into our dom.com website and see locations where the crews are working. From a security standpoint, we try not to put on an unsecured website individual addresses just because of security issues. So we understand customers want information so they can control their week, and we're doing all we can to help them with that.
ROBERTSLet's take a call from Carol in Vienna. Carol, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
CAROLHello. Thanks for taking my call.
CAROLI just -- I had a quick question. I'm not a resident of Northern Virginia, but my husband and I come over often to shop or eat or whatever. And we were driving on Saturday, actually mid-morning. We drove by the Dominion Virginia Power office on Green Road. And on the other side of the street, there were maybe seven or eight of the cherry-picker-type trucks and about just as many of the workers.
CAROLAnd some of them -- they were just kind of lounging, and some of them were kind of laying down, sleeping in the shade of the trucks. And I was just curious as to what they could possibly have been doing when there are so many people who are without power in Northern Virginia. Were they awaiting orders or -- I'm just very curious. It upset me, and I wasn't -- I'm not even a resident. And I was just very curious as to what was going on.
BARKERYes, ma'am, very fair question. Matter of fact, I was at Green Road this morning at about 4:30 in the morning and saw some crews there. What we're doing is staging crews. These crews are coming in all hours of the night, and we're assembling them there. We package our work at night, so the next day we have -- obviously crews working all night. But at times, you'll see crews being staged at local offices like Green Road, and they are -- they are waiting on their assignments.
BARKERNow, we try to minimize that. I know it's a very bad perception to see bucket trucks not putting up wire, and we try to minimize it. But with almost 2,000 crews coming in, it's hard to avoid some of that. But, again, I understand the perception that leaves with customers that don't have power in 100-degree heat.
ROBERTSOne of the things we've been hearing is that utilities, local governments didn't really have warning about the storm. Did you?
BARKERWell, we didn't. And, you know, I don't like to get into the excuse game because I know customers don't want to hear it. But if you look at the perfectly worst storm for us, it was this one. No model had the intensity of this storm. Typically for a hurricane, we're pre-staging crews. We would have all these crews in here before the storm hit. We would have all the poles and wires pre-staged. And then, after the winds die down, we're putting wire and poles up.
BARKERThe reason this one is taking a little bit longer is that we had to get additional crews on the fly. And once you start doing that, every utility is trying to get these crews. So that's why you're seeing 700 crews from literally Canada. They left Saturday, and they're just getting here now. So, again, we've lost a couple of days of production of the pre-staging that we would normally done with a hurricane.
ROBERTSKen Barker, vice president of costumer solutions for Dominion Virginia Power. Thank you so much for joining us.
BARKERThank you for having me on.
ROBERTSAnd we are joined here in studio by Veronica Johnson, NBC4 meteorologist. Welcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MS. VERONICA JOHNSONThanks a lot.
ROBERTSSo we just heard that Dominion didn't have much warning about the storm. We've heard that from others, too. What is that about?
JOHNSONThat is about a storm system where -- as you heard the gentleman, they used models, too, with their forecasters. This is a storm system that really is hard to pick up on any particular model. Everyone, I think -- so many people, they know the term now. The storm system was a Derecho, and some folks are even referring it -- to it as a super Derecho because of just its impact, not on this area alone, but on so much -- other areas to our west and up to our north, and even down to our south.
JOHNSONWhen computer models crank out a forecast, there can be this possibility of severe weather based on a weather front that is moving into an area and sometimes some smaller impulses. But the type of situation that we had last Friday was some extreme heat, some very high humidity, then we had this little impulse, too, that was diving south and east. And it was developing just south and right along our jet stream, which turned into a perfect storm for us.
JOHNSONAnytime you get a Derecho, it is going to deliver some devastation. These Derechos that set up for this area, we get maybe about one every four years, and it's been a while that I can remember that we had a significant one that came through. But indeed they are very hard to forecast. Early in the day, Tom Kierein was on the air, meteorologist Tom Kierein over at our station, NBC4, and we saw this line developing around Chicago.
JOHNSONA lot of times you see lines like that developing, it's kind of hard to get a handle if they're going to hold together for such a far distance. You're talking about 600, 700 miles. But indeed it did. By the time we got to the afternoon, around 3, 4 o'clock, meteorologist Doug Kammerer was on the air, saying, hey, this is something that is holding together and is likely heading this way. So by 3, 4 o'clock on a Friday, a lot of folks by that time have their guard down.
JOHNSONWhen we say sometimes severe weather, severe thunderstorms, we're talking about scattered storms typically around the area. But with a Derecho, what it is is no one is spared. It is this intense, fast-moving, straight line of powerful storms. And in this case, again, it went some 250 miles or so from its northward to its southward extent. And if you can imagine when we have severe weather around here with scattered storms, we'll issue some warnings.
JOHNSONThere can be a couple of neighborhoods here and there that get hit. But with a Derecho, again, it is this line that's coming through, hitting areas all the way from Maryland through D.C. and down to Virginia. And indeed, as you said, a lot of folks said, what happened? I've never seen anything come into an area so fast, move out so fast and do so much damage. At times, the storm system was traveling at 60 and 70 miles per hour.
JOHNSONSo it'll pick up speed at times as it makes its way eastward, but very powerful. And, again, this is not something, I think, that most of us will see anytime soon.
ROBERTSWell, we also have heard that some of the National Weather Services local transmitters were down on Friday night. So the warning system wasn't functioning as well as it does in other circumstances. So in addition to it being hard to forecast, the actual transmission of warning wasn't working that well.
JOHNSONWell, that's why I would say it's a good idea always to, along with having a weather radio, to make sure that you've got a station that you love, that you tune into because there are things that we can see on radar sometimes even though a warning may not be issued for an area.
ROBERTSWe are talking about the storm and the power outages and the heat wave with Veronica Johnson, NBC4 meteorologist. We are going to talk in just a minute with someone from the Fairfax County Emergency Management Office. But we're first going to take a quick break. So you can join us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. I'm Rebecca Roberts, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we'll be right back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. My guest is Veronica Johnson, NBC4 meteorologist. We're also joined on the phone by David McKernan, Fairfax County Emergency Management coordinator. David McKernan, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MR. DAVID MCKERNANThank you. Good afternoon.
ROBERTSSo how are things looking in Fairfax and Prince William County? We've heard that residents who called 911 at some point over the weekend actually had 911 issues in addition to everything else.
MCKERNANThat's true. We lost our 911 connections to our 911 center, and so our residents had a lot of difficulty getting help if they needed it. Again, 911 lines were down. We were fully staffed, ready to help, but that communications was broken down.
ROBERTSDo you know what happened?
MCKERNANWe're still investigating with Verizon on exactly what happened. So, no, we don't know.
ROBERTSAnd given the scope of a storm like this -- Veronica Johnson was just saying that no one was spared -- what kind of coordination is going on among the counties in the region?
MCKERNANWell, there's a lot of coordination that goes on within Fairfax County and all the different agencies that respond to our residents. But in addition, we've had numerous teleconferences with the other emergency managers in the region, and, again, we tried to coordinate our resources. But as Veronica stated, this was a region-wide event, so we were all stressed.
ROBERTSYou're a veteran Fire and Rescue Department guy. What is -- how would you classify the storm in terms of how big a disaster it was?
MCKERNANWell, first of all, it was deadly. We lost two of our county residents as a result of the storm. So it's rather significant. We -- the biggest concern that we have here in Fairfax County right now is the restoration of power and the restoration of our communications to ensure that it is good and solid and we don't have any repeats of what happened on Saturday.
ROBERTSAnd, Veronica Johnson, we've now all learned this word Derecho for the storm, and it's been described sort of as a long-lasting, fast-moving, far-reaching thunderstorm.
ROBERTSIntense, violent. What makes it do that?
JOHNSONJust the features with the storm system, we had record-high temperatures, not just here, but record-high temperatures that went all the way up to the north and off to the west. We had high humidity. We had this little impulse that was making its way from the Midwest down to the Southeast. And like I mentioned earlier, kind of where it was forming, it was all a perfect scenario for us to get a Derecho.
JOHNSONSometimes Derechos are, you know, around 240 miles from north to south. This one, at times, went as much as 250 miles-plus, and by the time even the storm system was ending, which was in the wee hours on Saturday morning, it went all the way from Philadelphia, all the way down to Richmond, Va. But it was just really all the right ingredients coming together.
JOHNSONWith part of the storm system, you get these strong updraft winds. With the other part of the storm system, you get this strong downdraft or downburst, if you will. And it's these downbursts, straight along the line of the storm, as far as it's going north and south, these downbursts that cause much of the damage. So, unlike the winds that you get from a tornado or -- let's just focus on a tornado. Unlike the winds that you get from a tornado, here, you have this strong line of winds that can be up around 70 to 80 miles per hour.
JOHNSONWe had 80 miles per hour that were clocked in our area. I believe there were 90-miles-per-hour winds that were clocked in other parts of this Derecho. So it's those destructive winds, those downbursts that do so much of the damage.
ROBERTSNow, it's still hot. I mean, it's slightly less humid today, but I understand the humidity is coming back. Are we going to get slammed again?
JOHNSONIt -- I'm not going to say that we're not going to get slammed again, but I would say that the odds favor that we're not, with the sheer fact that we're talking about one of every four years that we see one of these with, again, all the right ingredients coming together. So you need that impulse being in just the right place, those jet stream winds, those high-level winds the storm system was forming right along and just south of it. So to have that happening again, it's like a number hitting.
JOHNSONI would say that's doubtful. But on the 4th of July, I think we've got a pretty good chance with just a weather front coming to the area that on Wednesday we could see some strong, possibly severe storms in and around D.C.
ROBERTSThat's sort of closer to our usual summer. It gets hot and humid. There's a thunderstorm in the afternoon.
JOHNSONThat's right. And we see warnings.
ROBERTSLet's take a call. This is Lauren in Washington, D.C. Lauren, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
LAURENHi. I am a D.C. resident though I grew up in Montgomery County. And I know this storm is being called an anomaly, something different than we usually see, but it seems like we have storms that knock out power in the winter, in the summer, especially in Montgomery County, for, you know, 3, 5, 7 days at a time every year. And I'm wondering what are power companies doing to prevent this happening in the future? And are there any moves to put more power lines underground?
ROBERTSLauren, thanks for your call. Tom Graham from Pepco did address the burying the lines issue earlier, basically dismissing it as prohibitively expensive. But this might be an anomalous storm, but severe weather happens here, happens in different seasons, happens, as she says, a couple of times a year.
JOHNSONIt does. And I think that as we'd look forward -- community planners, city planners -- and we look at climate change and global warming, that these -- that all of these businesses and organizations are taking a closer look at that. How is our climate changing? We're seeing more intense storms. We're seeing exclamation marks put behind what pattern we may be in. If it's a dry pattern, it may be drier than average. If it's a wet pattern, it may be wetter than average.
JOHNSONSo we're seeing the intensity of our weather really change, and I think, again, as businesses and organizations that all of us -- it certainly sounds like the power companies are planning, but maybe not fast enough for everyone.
ROBERTSAnd, David McKernan, in terms of planning for emergency response, which might be slightly oxymoronic, how, you know, are there certain seasons, are there certain times of year where you think this is a high likelihood of us having an emergency?
MCKERNANWell, you know, we used to be able to say that and judge depending on the season what type of an event we're going to have. And, you know, up until last year, I would have said the possibility of an earthquake is pretty remote.
MCKERNANI can't say that anymore. I guess the point I would try to make is at any point at any time, we can be faced with a disaster, whether it's a natural or a man-made disaster, and our residents have got to be prepared to deal with that. And that means that you have water and you have food and you have a plan, you have a means of communicating and you have a means receiving information from your government.
ROBERTSWell, you know, after an emergency like this, people -- there's a whole group of people who kind of get religion about emergency preparedness, and they start stocking what they need to stock. If people want to do that, do you have resources that you recommend for the kind of emergency preparedness kit people should have?
MCKERNANAbsolutely. You can go to the Fairfax County website and toggle down to emergency. We provide all that information, and I am absolutely positive that any jurisdiction that you live in has the same information on their websites.
ROBERTSAnd, Veronica Johnson, we are, as you said, expecting some more heat coming up and some potential storms on the 4th of July. Are we just paying for having such a nice mild winter that we're going to have a brutal summer?
JOHNSONWell, out pattern is changing. The type of pattern that we were in this past winter, we've kind of flipped now. So, yeah, we're talking about some heat, though I looked at the long-range forecast for the next three months. So it's calling for slightly above average temperatures. Our average right now is 88. We may see our highs at least anywhere from, you know, the low to mid-90s for the next couple of days as well as the next couple of months then. But at least next week, right now I'm forecasting highs to, for a couple of days, drop back to the low to mid-80s. But then we'll probably see them rise again.
ROBERTSLow to mid-80s would feel like a vacation right now...
ROBERTS...especially for people who still don't have air-conditioning. There are, of course, cooling centers around. We should mention that to people. If you are stuck in the heat, all of the different utilities have websites up. The cities and municipal government and countywide governments have lists of cooling centers. There's one on The Washington Post website, various news organizations like Veronica's NBC4. Here at WAMU, there's lots of resources for places to go.
ROBERTSWe heard storied yesterday about what used to be known as Montgomery mall, which I know as Westfield Shopping Center, showing my age, of people just kind of having picnics on the middle of the mall and plugging in and recharging their devices.
JOHNSONTrying to make the most of it. One thing I wanted to say with the gentleman that we have on the line now, he made the point that with -- it's hard to tell when we're going to hit with these crazy event or storms, so planning is everything. And always having a good plan at moving forth with whatever, some sort of kit, if you've got kids for your family, what everybody should be doing should something happen because our world is not the same, and our climate is changing.
JOHNSONSo as a meteorologist, that's what I try to do with my family, knowing that I could have to go into work in a moment's notice, they're left behind, here's what you need. Just always be ready for something to happen. No longer is it that we can say, spring and summer is our peak months for big severe storms. You know, now we get the big winter events, we get, as you heard the gentleman say, earthquakes. We're not used to that. So we really have to be very proactive.
ROBERTSAnd, David McKernan, you have the last word. If you want to give a quick public service announcement about what people should be doing to recover, what would you tell them?
MCKERNANI'd ask them to be safe. If you have wires down, not to approach them until you're absolutely sure that -- and Dominion Virginia Power or the power companies have come out, check to make sure that that power is off, that if you need emergency assistance, dial 911. Our 911 system is up and running. Although we're having some -- still having some difficulties with it, please, go to our blog, in our emergency management blog in Fairfax County or other blogs in your jurisdictions to get the most up-to-date information. And if you're having trouble, again, dial 911.
ROBERTSDavid McKernan, Fairfax County emergency management coordinator and Veronica Johnson, NBC4 meteorologist, thank you both so much. I'm Rebecca Roberts, sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.
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