Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Corporate incompetence (Part 1)

Twice this week I had to face prime examples of corporate incompetence.

Part 1: Hydro-Québec

Last friday, I came back from work in a violent wind storm. It was blowing so hard sometime that I had trouble walking. I was particularly careful to mind flying objects that could quickly become deadly projectiles. Fortunately, I made it to the subway without incidents. No interruption in the subway service either, although I slept most of the time because I was really feeling badly (very tired, with a slight fever, my whole body was hurting: I was afraid that I was starting some cold or flu). I made a quick pit-stop at the Apple Store to pick up an iPad Air. I was eager to go home, have a hot meal and go to bed. Instead, in found my house in total darkness. A note from my wife on the table was telling me that power went out around 1:30 PM. It was a little past 8 PM.

Candlelit supperThe power outage was affecting only one or two blocks (60 to 120 multiplex-type homes). Everybody in the neighbourhood had power beyond that. It was quite frustrating. My battery backup UPS (for Uninterruptible Power Supply) were both dead despite that they usually provides enough backup power to work through most power outages (the computer one usually last a couple of hours, and the one for the cable modem and phone router usually last nearly six hours). So I had no computer, no wi-fi, no IP phone and my cellphone (after a long day at work) was nearly dead too. I lighted a few candles and I ate my supper cold, while browsing the news on my old iPad 2 using the wi-fi of my cellphone's personnal hotspot. Later, I switched to a battery-powered emergency radio. The wind storm had caused lots of power outages around the city and elsewhere in the province.

Later, I tried to call Hydro-Quebec to have an estimated time for the return of the power. That proved to be a frustrating experience as you have to go through many automated menu and their voice-recognition system is far from perfect (“our files tell us your address is ... please say confirm”, “confirm”, “I cannot understand what you are saying, please say again” etc). I had to call twice since the call dropped the first time. The problem had been already reported but they hadn't assessed the nature of the outage yet (i.e. nobody had been sent to check it yet) and they couldn't give a time for the return of the power. This call killed my cellphone. But I was optimistic: the outage would probably not last more than a few more hours. That's what I told my wife when she came back from work around midnight.

I did not sleep well that night. My body was still hurting and I was expecting the power to come back anytime. Fortunately it was not too cold. However, the house was too silent (well, not completely: I always thought that the refrigerator was making a lot of noise, but I realized that night that most of this noise was due to my tinnitus!). In the morning, twenty-one hours after the beginning of the outage, the power was still out. I was still not feeling very well (even more because I didn't sleep well) so I decided to call in sick at work. Unfortunately, both my IP phone and my cellphone were dead and all my contact numbers were locked inside my dead cellphone or computer. Luckily the cellphone of my sister (who lives upstair) was still (barely) working. I waited for the library to open and called the only phone number I could remember: my post. I couldn't reach anyone since my coworkers had forgotten to turn the answering machine off. I searched through some papers to find another phone number and could finally tell someone I would not come to work. There was just enough power left in my sister's cellphone to call Hydro-Québec again and learn that the outage was due to a broken equipment (probably a transformer blowing up) and they were expecting the power to return before 8 PM!

I needed to put some hot food in my stomach so my sister, my wife and I went to Tim Hortons to have breakfast. After that we went to my parents place to charge both our cellphones and kill time in a warm place. Late afternoon, we came back home after stopping to pick up some warm fast-food. My sister reflected that since we had picked up supper, the power would probably be back. Indeed it was. Looking at the micro-wave clock I estimated that power came back around 4 PM. Does it really take that long to replace a transformer? I guess that restoring power to our couple of blocks was not a priority for them. Maybe they were too busy repairing downed power in other (better off) neighbourhood. But in the afternoon, we drove by an Hydro-Quebec office and the parking was full of trucks that should have been on the road doing repairs! Lack of personnel? They knew for several days that this wind storm was coming and what kind of damages it could do. They should have recalled more personnel in anticipation. Of course, if I take my time to pay their bill they will charge me interest. And they will always have good excuses to justify their failure to quickly restore power. No consideration for our loss of life's enjoyment (in my case I was pretty miserable) and never mind the loss of our freezer's content!

With this event I broke my personal record for a power outage. This time we were out of power for nearly twenty-seven hours while the previous record was during the infamous ice storm with a mere twenty-four hours outage! Way to go Hydro-Quebec!

Update: I just received a notice from HQ that they will soon install their new “smart” meters in my neighbourhood. I'm not worried about the so-called waves that are emitted by the meters. It cannot be worse than wi-fi or a cellphone (and I already use both). However, I just read an article (in french) about some meters catching fire, and THAT worries me. The article also questions the qualification of the people doing the installation...

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