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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Go Away, You're Bothering Me

It sure did get quiet around here. The tutorials have put y'all to sleep I guess. Sorry.

Seriously, I would like to know if they are helpful, interesting, or useless... a little feedback to help me shape how I do this would be welcomed if you have something to say about it. More pictures? Less rambling? Door prizes? Let me know....

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Like on fire scenes, any time you have so much as a moderately interesting incident at the power dispatch center, rubberneckers tend to appear. It is always amusing to me when the local distribution feeder to the control center trips out. We have hundreds of feeders on the system, each serving roughly anywhere from 500-2,000 customers in small pockets. We get feeder trips all day long for a variety of reasons: squirrels, storms, mylar ballons, traffic accidents, kites, tree branches. Dispatchers don't get excited about them, because.... that's what we do. But by golly if the feeder serving the dispatch office goes.... all these people show up, wanting to know what is going on. Cue the dramatic action soundtrack... our feeder tripped! Do not panic!!

Some dispatchers tolerate this. I do not. I stand up and tell them that unless I requested their presence, they need to leave the control room. Now. Rank and office means nothing. I am the Dispatcher, I am In Charge. Get out. Crap, guys, it's just a feeder. Where were you during the first five feeder trips today? It's not as if I need absolute quiet to restore a feeder or that it is any kind of particularly scary task... I can do feeder restorations practically in my sleep. It's the principle, though. Go away, you're bothering me.

Unlike the fire department, some more complicated incidents also tend to attract supervisor/manager-type rubberneckers who want to hover behind you, often to give unsolicited advice or even interfere with your work as they attempt to 'help'. They upgrade from simple rubberneckers for those feeder trips, to overzealous helpful citizens pulling another attack line off your engine or dumping your trauma kit out for you so you can 'see stuff better'.

Like on your fire scenes, this is usually unwelcome.

Ummm, make that pretty much always unwelcome.

In years past, even up to the 2003 Northeast Blackout, some investigations revealed that there were still some dispatchers who felt they couldn't act to save their system without some sort of supervisory approval. Such as.... let's say you suddenly lose a major power plant, making it impossible to meet customer demand. The system is sagging and approaching collapse. The solution is to immediately black out a portion of your system to restore the balance, in order to save the rest of it. But these guys, for whatever reason, felt like they had to get approval from a boss. You've sometimes got just seconds to save your system... it is the wrong time to call a boss. Saving the system in seconds is exactly what we're here to do, it kind of defeats the purpose if you have to get approval to blow your nose first.

If they do not heed the call to Get Out Now, there is the Level 2 Deterrent:

I get up, step away from the console, roll the chair to the 'helpful' boss and state "I understand that you are taking over this restoration and relieving me of duty. I'll be in the kitchen/bathroom/cafeteria, please send word when you're ready to turn control back to me."

I have used this exactly once, and the boss-type person skittered off. Word got around, I never had to do it again. If only some of these other guys would pull out their big guns, the bees would stop buzzing around their heads during incidents. Oh well.

The industry rules, enforced indirectly by the federal government are clear: The Dispatcher is IN CHARGE. Unless forcefully relieved of duty or fired. And when it is deer-in-the-headlights time, bosses who don't mind peppering you with "help" from the shoulder generally don't feel like instead stepping into the road to take over.

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One last similar amusing event for your pleasure.

Beeeeeeep! Oh look, a feeder trip. It is after hours, so the rubbernecking problem is greatly reduced. The feeder recloser tries to pick it up again, fails due to a sustained fault, and locks the feeder out. Following our typical procedure, I wait a minute, for the charred squirrel carcass to fall away, and try the feeder manually one more time. Pop, out again. OK, time to call out a trouble crew.

I pull out the callout list and find the on-call guy's info. Before I can dial, however, my phone rings in. The following conversation ensues:

Grumpy Dispatcher: ECC, Grumpy.
Important Vice President: Hey yeah, this is Power Company Important Vice President. Hey, my lights are out here.

Now, our direct-dial line is not a public line. We have a customer service department who screens and funnels calls so we dispatchers hear about a problem once instead of fielding all the hundreds of calls. You have to know someone or be someone to have our direct dial line. Obviously, I am pretty sure Important Vice President is on this tripped feeder.

GD: Hello Mr. Important, what's your address?
IVP: 4624 Expensive Lane
GD: Yes sir, the feeder for your area is open.
.....(3-4 seconds of silence).....
IVP: Well, do you know why? Do you know what happened?
GD: No, sir. It just tripped, I don't know the cause yet.
.....(more awkward silence).....
IVP: (getting impatient with me) Well, uh, what are you doing about it??
GD: Nothing at the moment.
IVP: (indignant!) What? Why not?!
GD: Sir, I am on the phone, talking to you.
.....(sharp intake of breath, then loud silence).....
IVP: Hey, then. OK, I'll let you get back to it. Um, thanks.

That VP never called me on the desk again.

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