We started at 5:30 yesterday morning. After many verifications and communications with Facilities Management, closing a switch or two in one place, and opening three separate switches in others, we took the power out on eleven dormitories at Ole Miss yesterday. Within minutes of taking the power out, we had gotten to the point where there was only the new way of serving the electrical load. There was no more old way. If you’ve never done that, may I assure you that this puts some rather stiff pressure on you.
However much pressure it puts on you, it is called a “planned” outage. If one does this properly, the plan has included every imaginable scenario, the main one being having all the necessary materials on hand before you start, since the materials we use are not available at Walmart or Home Depot on a Saturday afternoon, or a Saturday night, or ever. Every piece must be on hand as if it were an auto assembly line….the whole line will shut down for lack of a single bolt. Automakers don’t like to shut down their assembly lines. Universities don’t like to have their dorms (and other buildings) shut down for an extended period.
“We’ll be back Monday,” said an electrical contractor to his power company client on a Saturday afternoon in the last conversation he would ever have with any employee of that power company or its subsidiaries, or its neighboring power companies. ”We are one piece short in a termination kit and it’s late and we’re tired, so we’ll just be back Monday to finish. We got nearly 100% complete. So that’s pretty good.”
“WHAT?????” screamed the power company engineer as he was dialing the number of another contractor. “Nearly 100% complete means that zero percent of the power can be restored to 6,000 people, and 2,000 meters are not spinning.”
“But we only forgot one little piece,” said the contractor in his defense. It did not help him one bit.
It is similar to a pilot who says, “I almost landed the plane successfully in the terrible crosswind. I should get some sort of credit for that!” If he is still alive to make that statement, I suppose some credit is due. But what of those flying with him who failed to make it?
“We performed a successful kidney removal on the wrong patient,” said a surgeon, “But it was entirely successful, I might add. The wrong patient should not have been in the operating room.”
In situations like those, there are no excuses. There are explanations, but all those are good for is learning how to avoid the next faux pas.
The men wonder why I obsess over every detail before one of these planned outages. They think I needlessly worry and fret over them, wanting to go through every motion, count every nut and bolt, put labels and specific markings on boxes, lay them out in the staging areas if they were being actually staged….a complete rehearsal. Many of the green hands think this is unnecessary. I know better. It is absolutely necessary.
Why, you might wonder? If one does it right, one has the time to deal with the inevitable unexpected thing that crops up rather than also deal with what was not planned properly. Sometimes there just is no time. Sometimes there is just no capability. If one is going to have a colossal failure, let it be the completely unexpected, not a thing that should have been planned.
“We have a fire in engine one,” said the co-pilot to the captain of the airliner during takeoff.
“That is completely unexpected and terribly unfortunate,” said the captain as he applied full right rudder and lowered his rate of climb to keep the plane steady from the off-axis thrust and reduced power, trying to keep the plane stable enough to circle around for an emergency landing. He had a plan for this unexpected event, which may or may not be successful. He certainly wanted it to be.
“We forgot to fuel up,” said more than one pilot in the middle of a terrible event that was completely uncalled for.
“Oops!” said lots of people as their final words.
“Uh-Oh!” said lots of others.
Some of them said that because of major unexpected occurrences outside of their ability to control. Others, perhaps most, said them because of a woeful lack of planning and preparation. I’m not perfect. I can screw up, too, but hopefully it won’t be because I planned to screw up by failing to plan properly.
“What happened to Chris?” someone asked.
“He and the switch he was opening went into low-earth orbit when it exploded,” was the reply to a completely unexpected and unprepared for event.
“What happened to Chris?” asked someone else.
“He failed to open BOTH switches,” was the reply to a gigantic planning failure I hope no one ever hears of.
All in all, the outage went well. There were some unplanned events, but solutions were developed on the fly. We made great progress early, got bogged on one particular part in the afternoon, and slowed the pace as fatigue crept up on us in the late afternoon. These things must be planned for. The one thing it is hard to plan for is the weather, which was fabulous….our coolest day yet of the fall, a cloudless, windless sky, with fall colors beginning to take hold in the trees. I even ate some persimmons that had dropped from the most heavily laden persimmon tree I had ever seen.
“Eewwwww! Persimmons are awful,” I can hear reverberating across the ether. No, they aren’t. You are just recalling your memory of how someone tricked you into eating a green one, which are indeed awful. A fully ripened one is a gracious sweetness, best enjoyed when the tree has freely offered them. So as the men were making cable terminations in a switch, I was underneath the colorful, bending-towards-the-earth persimmon tree, picking up all I could find, squeezing their delightful goodness into my mouth like I was a squirrel preparing for winter. Don’t worry squirrels, there’s plenty for all of us beneath the spread of that tree.
We were allotted twelve hours to complete our work. It took us eleven-and-a-half. We executed our plan. We had hoped to be finished sooner, but were glad to be finished within our allotted time.
Thanks to all the University of Mississippi and the Advance Electric people who worked with us, as we all worked together, since this could not have been done without their help. Coordination is a big part of planning, as things must be done in the right sequence. And successful coordination requires communication, since one does not want key players left out of any loop. Miscommunication is the easiest mistake to make, and in our business, poor communication can be disastrous.
I was tired at the end of the day, but no more so than the rest of the folks who worked on the project. I hit the bed as soon as I got to my camper. I had plans to listen to the Ole Miss/LSU game on the radio as I am delightfully TV-less there, but I failed to remember to do so. No matter, I would have gone to sleep between the coin toss and the klck-off, and a further no matter because I likely would have turned it off as the 38 to 21 score I read this morning led me to conclude. It’s tough down there in Death Valley. Now Ole Miss must cling to the hope of a bowl game after having had such high expectations earlier in the season. Seeing the Ohio State and Houston scores and a few other upsets makes me think that other teams will now try to wrestle the remainder of their seasons from the grip of unexpected events.
Today, Sunday, October 23, we will take down the overhead power lines that have been de-energized because of our successful work yesterday. Seeing them come down will be the reward for the hard work and planning that made yesterday successful….and safe.
I was so busy, I did not think of CLL but only once, noting to myself, “I sure do feel good today. Is it the moon, or the ruxolitinib?” I had no time to ponder it further, though I did manage some time to eat a few wonderfully ripe persimmons.
Discovering them was an unplanned event. Unplanned events like that are the best kind, if you ask me.
©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp