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August 16, 2003
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
Other (please specify)
In your own words, tell the story of your experience in the blackout(s). Try to recall specific events and the people, places, and things involved; also include more general reactions, images adn last impressions?
On August 14, 2003, I was at Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights, MI (a suburb of Detroit). I had just gotten a pedicure, and was just waiting for the polish to dry, when the lights flickered and then went off. After several seconds, they came back to life, stayed on for a couple of minutes, and then went out again. I was sitting in an area where I had light from an outside window, but the salon was completely dark. At first, they thought it was construction that caused the power outage. Apparently several weeks prior to that, the power went out when construction workers had cut a power line. Then we found out that the power was actually out in the whole Mall which is a very large mall. There were several women in the shop that had been in the process of getting their hair dyed which caused a slight panic... there was no light to complete the job. I left the salon at that time to go home. As I exited the parking area, I noticed that the traffic signals weren't working either and the traffic was a mess. I inched my way along and when I tried my radio, I was unable to get any station to come through. I thought to myself that this was probably just the immediate area, and figured as I got closer to home, 13 miles away, I would see evidence that there was power. That was not the case, so I tried my radio and was unable to pick up any radio stations. I then tried to call home, and was unable to get through to anyone. My cell phone wasn't working either. I couldn't imagine what had happened. The weather was good, no storms, and I knew nothing like an earthquake took place in Michigan, so I was a little concerned as to what caused all these problems. Everyone was calm, and even though the traffic was horrendous, it seemed that most people were being courteous and patient getting through it. It took me over an hour to get home, normally a 25 min ride. I finally reached my house at one point when and was told of the massiveness of the blackout. I was shocked, but not panicked by it. That might be because of my profession... I work for the Michigan State Police as an Emergency Dispatcher. My power was restored the next day on Aug 15th at roughly 1 pm. I worked that day on the day shift in a hot room with minimal lighting and equipment. We were on generator power. The troopers were looking for available fuel for their patrol cars and most of the filling stations were not operating. The call volumes on our 911 lines were enormous, most with calls for things that should not even come in on 911 lines. You DO NOT call 911 to ask questions like, what restaurants are open for business, or what stores are open, or where you can buy gasoline. 911 is for EMERGENCIES!! That means someone needs an ambulance because they are hurt, or something is on fire, or someone has been hurt, robbed, beaten... REAL emergencies. 911 is NOT for questions like... when will the power be back on, and where you can go to eat dinner. The reason 911 lines are busy when you call with your REAL emergency is because people misuse it and tie up the lines with nonsensical questions. I can't stress that enough. We got through the workday though, and amazingly enough, the City of Detroit and the surrounding area managed to get through it nicely and for the most part without major incidents. New York City is one of my most favorite cities to visit, and from what I've heard they seemed pretty prepared for the crisis. I couldn't help but feel compassion for the people there though... they surely have been through a lot the last few years.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I believe it was an unfortunate combination of things. Antiquated equipment coupled by someone's inattention to detail.. maybe human error failing to see what was about to happen and stopping it... and I also believe that there was a possibility of sabotage on the part of an employee.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
General causes are probably due to, natural occurences like storms, etc, and equipment that cannot keep up with the growing demands for power.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Neither was significant
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
At home, no power affected my sleep, my comfort... I was unable to cook anything, or see in the dark, or sleep very well because it was hot and noisy. But, on the other hand, I knew everything would be done to restore the power, and I knew millions of others were in the same boat as me, and that we would get through it. And, as bad as things got, I knew people in other areas had it worse than me by comparison.
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
Became less reliant
Story #269, The Blackout History Project, 16 August 2003, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/269/>.
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