How hot was it last week in the Midwest and East? So hot
that no cable operator thought that straight line was funny.
Cable systems throughout the region put together quick
classes for technicians, teaching them the early signs of heat exhaustion and prostration.
Engineers checked on diesel-powered backup generators and found that they had to use them
sooner in the summer, rather than later.
And systems used their cable channels while signals were
flowing to tell consumers where to find safe zones in the cement-buckling heat.
Triple-digit temperatures put such a strain on electrical
output in so many states that cities throughout the region experienced rolling brownouts
and plain old blackouts. Three power grids served by utility consortia that were formed
after the East Coast blackout of 1965 set records for electrical usage.
To avoid a reprise of that blowout, power partnerships such
as the New York Power Pool, which includes the Long Island Power Authority, contacted
industries and asked them to shut down nonessential businesses for the day.
Following that request, Cablevision Systems Corp.
voluntarily closed its corporate headquarters in Bethpage, N.Y., last Tuesday.
Also shuttered for the day were six Cablevision-owned The
Wiz appliance stores on Long Island and nine Clearview Cinemas.
The one-day closure affected 1,750 employees, according to
company officials, costing Cablevision an estimated $250,000 in lost revenue.
Cablevision's cable systems kept their customer- and field-service personnel on the job.
Time Warner Cable also shuttered its office in north
Manhattan for one day, victimized by a river-to-river blackout suffered by Consolidated
Edison Inc. customers. Vice president of public affairs Gerri Warren-Merrick said some
employees were farmed out to other regional offices, but the balance of the workers went
home for the day.
The Manhattan system attempted to keep consumers up to date
with Con Ed projections on service restoration cablecast on New York 1 News and programmed
messages included in on-hold recordings.
"Call volume is certainly up. If they can't get
through to Con Ed, they call us," Warren-Merrick said.
New York officials also called on The Weather Channel,
which agreed to read messages directing New Yorkers to the city's heat-emergency 800
number twice an hour. And meteorologists took calls from radio stations and broadcasters,
proving updates on weather forecasts and tips on heat safety.
Calls were generated in other communities by power outages
that disabled distant cable nodes, but not necessarily local power grids.
"They were not happy," said Dan Garfinkle,
AT&T Broadband & Internet Services' spokesman in Pittsburgh, "but it's an act
of God. They understand if you take the time to explain."
About 100 power transformers blew in the region, leaving
the AT&T Broadband system powerless for anywhere from a couple hours to two days in
Garfinkle said the weather would have been normal for
August in the region, so workers were familiar with precautions. If the wave had
continued, the only other concession would have been to shorten the work day.
Also, the newness of fleet vehicles helped. As recently as
five years ago, some of the trucks lacked air conditioning. Today, most of the rigs have
climate control, "and that makes a big difference," he added.
But air conditioning in trucks isn't much help when the
heat is popping fuses all over the system.
Power supplies that cooked in the sun were the source of
six spot outages in MediaOne Group Inc.'s Richmond, Va., system, spokesman Ken Dye said.
Techs put in 35 hours of overtime in one- to two-hour chunks in the blazing sun to repair
the failures, he added.
"They earned their keep that day," Dye said.
Actually, most of the news surrounding the heat wave was good, since backup systems such
as the diesel-powered generator to support the call center and headend kicked in for a
seamless transition when needed, he added.
If climatic conditions keep the mercury rising during the
summer, power-company sources advised businesses that they can help to cut power
consumption and lower the need for brownouts with simple concessions such as turning off
unnecessary light fixtures or unused computers.
Dimming an eight-foot light fixture can save 180 watts per
day, while a switched-off computer will conserve 200 watts.