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Alaska editorial: Knowledge is power

Posted: September 16, 2012 - 12:02am

This editorial first ran in the Anchorage Daily News:

Alaskans can handle it when the lights go out. But they don’t like being kept in the dark.

That’s the simple conclusion from the aftermath of last week’s wind storm that felled thousands of trees and left some Anchorage families out of power for four days or more.

Judging by letters to the editor and online comments, residents tempered angry complaints about insufficient information from their utilities with heartfelt gratitude for the long hours put in by utility workers to get homes and business up and running again.

More than one frustrated citizen said it wasn’t the outage than rankled as much as the lack of response.

Chugach Electric Association board chairwoman Janet Reiser said the utility is taking those complaints to heart and reviewing its response, with the aim of improving its collection of outage reports and getting information back to consumers.

That’s wise. Duration of the outages last week caught people by surprise. We’ve all been affected by power outages caused by wind storms, snowstorms or accidents. And we’re all used to the power coming back soon.

For thousands of residents last week, that wasn’t the case. Hours became days and neither power nor answers were forthcoming.

Lack of answers can be even more frustrating than lack of power. When folks know what they’re up against, they can deal with it — light candles, fire up generators, help one another. But when they don’t know how the long the problem is going to last — or even if the utility is aware that they’re still in the dark — that’s when anger rises.

Reasonable residents know that a widespread storm can strap a system of recovery, wearing parts and people down. What they need to know is that the utility knows their plight and is working on it.

We know there will be a next time. Chugach, Municipal Light and Power, Matanuska Electric Association and any other utility in the state should take note of what happened. To whatever extent possible, utilities should figure out how to communicate better. That’s not easy when some communications go down with the power, but that’s the challenge.

On the home front, we can take heart in all the neighborly work that saw people through damages and darkness. And those of us lacking the means to cover the recommended 72 hours of emergency self-reliance should act on the storm’s lesson.

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