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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't Be Owned

Originally posted 9/12/2009, removed during a spate of paranoid content cleanup 5/26/2010, and now re-posted after some review and editing.

My company isn't unlike most electric utilities in North America, belt-tightening and cutting back everywhere in the 15 or so years following deregulation. Maintenance deferred, projects dropped, upgrades delayed, and my personal pet peeve... strict adherence to lowest bidder crap instead of paying a bit more for something of exponentially more value.

C'mon... in real life, if you have a choice between a truly great product at a certain cost, or a lousy crappy one for a little less, you put out a little extra and get the job done right the first time, else you pay for the savings later. Usually you pay more than you saved.

Some of us know that.

The company does not. Lowest bidder. Least cost. Period. And we continually pay for it through all available orifices as well as some new ones created for the situation. Overtime, emergency outages, repairs, lost time from dealing with crap. You get the idea.

That wasn't really the rant I meant to share when I started, though.

So, due to this lowest bidder - least cost - maintenance deferred frame of mind, One of my guys gets yet another routine alarm on a high voltage circuit breaker that is low on its arc-extinguishing internal gas (SF6).

He refers to the callout list. It's after-hours, you see. And these breakers can't be allowed to run out of SF6 gas while in service. They will either automatically trip before the gas gets too low, degrading the grid slightly, or they will "block closed", meaning if something happens that would normally trip this breaker, the trip signal will instead be sent to every adjacent breaker. It puts a big dent in your grid when you get a breaker fail operation like that.

So, (once again) due to this lowest bidder - least cost - maintenance deferred frame of mind, there are not very many guys assigned to this area any more. They're not being replaced as they retire or quit or move on. Three guys (including the designated on-call guy) don't answer calls to their home or cell numbers. The one guy that does answer is with his wife at the hospital. Bless his heart, he volunteers to go if we really need it. To hell with that, I'll see a substation burn violently to the ground on my watch to teach this company a lesson before I pull a guy from his sick wife's hospital bedside.

And let me not harp too much on the good old days, when we didn't have an "on-call" guy, we had an on-duty guy assigned exclusively to a trouble truck and waiting for action, fire department-style.


So, anyway, I call the field supervisor for that area.

Field Supervisor: Hello?

Grumpy Dispatcher: Hey, this is Grumpy, Shift Supervisor at the ECC, We've got a critical low gas alarm at Outback Sub, and my dispatcher can't raise any of your area guys. You have anyone else available or know how we can reach your crews?

FS: Really, you couldn't get Tom or Dick?

GD: No answer on home or cell. we got Harry, but he's with his wife at the hospital and can't go.

I didn't reveal that Harry offered to go anyway, lest this guy glom onto that idea.

FS: Low gas, huh? Well, I don't have anyone around here, I'd have to call someone on OT from Far Away Service Center, that's three hours away. It'll probably be fine until morning.

An aside: I love that our phones are recorded.

GD: All right then, I understand you're assuming responsibility for this incident, and are choosing to defer work on the critical gas alarm until tomorrow. If anything worsens, can I call you?

Silence ensues.... field boss just remembered that our calls are recorded.

FS: Well. ........ You know ..... you know, let me make some calls and see if I can reach anyone.

Uh-huh. Go team.

GD: Sounds good, I'll wait to hear back from you when when you've assigned a crew.

Don't be owned.

If I had let this guy put off the work and something blew up or got someone killed, you know where responsibility lies? The Dispatcher is In Charge. And as the Dispatcher's Supervisor, I am In Charge-In Charge.

When stuff has to get done, make it clear where responsibility lies. I took that burden off and placed in unequivocally in his lap. He knew it, and he knew why. He didn't want to bear that liability. Guess what Captain Cavalier, I don't either. They pay you field supervisor pay. Go earn it. Find your guys, and get it fixed.

I'm sorry about the cutbacks and all, but no part of the cutbacks includes the requirement that I retain the liability for getting people killed or blowing stuff up simply because you couldn't/wouldn't do your job. You see, despite the clear transfer of the burden to the field boss, I would still be held at least partially accountable for not pushing harder and finding someone somehow to get it done. Frankly, spending 45 minutes on the phone and playing voice mail tag is not my job. We are running critical national infrastructure. When I want help, I want it right now. If I can't get it, I will make the boss of that area assume that burden. If he doesn't like that, maybe he'll ensure his guys aren't impossible to reach in the future, huh?

Captain Cavalier shouldn't tolerate being owned by me, either, He should be using the same approach to his bosses to put responsibility where it belongs: Sorry boss, I can't help the OT costs, because you won't hire help and we're behind on scheduled maintenance, so stuff is breaking all around our ears. If we fall behind, and especially if something big breaks because of it, we get fined big bucks.

Push responsibility where it belongs. And deal with it if it is truly yours.

Don't be owned.

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