State needs to put more energy into blackout alerts : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Posted at 10:37 p.m. PST Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2001

BY MIKE CASSIDY Mercury News Hey, it's another Stage 3 Day.

You know. Stage 3. Electric emergency. Aruuugha! Aruuugha!

Shouldn't we all be running for our basements? (Oh, yeah. No basements.) Shouldn't we be boarding up our windows or building campfires in the back yard?

Sure, some are turning a light off or the heat down, but this is Stage 3! Where's the drastic action?

Maybe we're numb. What is this? About the 673,339th consecutive Stage 3 Day? Another day that we're using nearly all the electricity available; a day when at any minute power could be shut off neighborhood by neighborhood. A day that means lights out, baby.

OK. It doesn't mean lights out, and maybe that's the problem. Remember the tingle of our first Stage 3 back in December? And then six weeks later, some real punch: A Stage 3 warning and rolling blackouts.

The real thing

Those were the days (two of them) when Stage 3 really meant something. A Stage 3 back in January meant all hands on deck, break out the batteries and the s'mores. (Why s'mores? Why not?)

I'm not saying anyone likes disaster or inconvenience, but it does get the juices flowing, especially when the juice isn't.

Now the Stage 3 warnings don't feel much like warnings at all. They're delivered with all the urgency of the Bay Area's summer weather forecast: morning low clouds, clearing to the ocean by midday, then sunny and mild.

These days you hear Stage 3 and it makes you want to turn everything on, just to see if anything happens. (Don't do it. Apparently, it would result in the equivalent of blowing the state's fuse.)

The warnings now come like a frustrated parent giving a kid an endless string of ``one last chance.'' OK, we're at Stage 3, Stage 3 1/2, Stage 3 3/4, Stage 3 and fifteen-sixteenths. I mean it.

Which is not to say there isn't a real problem and that state power officials aren't working hard to keep electricity flowing. It's just to say that Stage 3 has lost its power to cause Stage Fright.

Look at downtown San Jose. I took a walk downtown on Day 29 (it only seemed like Day 673,337) of our Stage 3 crisis. The Independent System Operator, which issues the daily Stage 3 warning, had just announced that possible blackouts were only hours away. And the general reaction on the street was: ``So?''

Lights ablaze

The only electricity buzz was the buzz of neon lights. The former Retail Pavilion (now the Johnny Rocket/AboveNet Server Farm Building) was sucking up power like there was no tomorrow. (And given the high-tech economy, maybe there isn't.)

``I don't pay any attention to it,'' said Gabriela Gabrian, an off-duty Denny's waitress enjoying a cup of joe that had been pulverized, heaterized and creamified through the modern electric gear at the building's Starbucks.

And why should she pay attention? Every day is a Stage 3 Day.

Maybe the state should throw in a few Stage 4 days or Stage 10 days just to get our attention. How about switching to a Stage Yikes Day. Or a Stage Turn-Off-That-Blow-Dryer Day, just to get our attention.

Marjory Seremetis, tending bar at the Flying Pig on First Street, has her own idea, inspired by our current governor, Gray Davis, and our last infrastructure crisis, Y2K.

``Another Y2 Gray Day.''

``I think that is something that's being talked about,'' says Lisa Szot, a spokeswoman at the Independent System Operator.


The general idea. Not the specific names.

Well, it's a start.

-- Doris (, February 16, 2001

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