City looking for a way to communicate with residents during power outages

By Ralph Echtinaw

Two power outages in September, especially the one on Sept. 19 that left the whole city without electricity, have local officials thinking about creating a system to alert residents of future outages. 

Gratiot County Central Dispatch received 86 calls from people reporting the power outage between 4 and 6 a.m. Sept. 19. Only two of those calls were before the car hit the utility pole on River Court. During the height of the activity dispatchers received two to three calls per minute.

Linesmen work to restore power Sept. 19 after a car took out a utility pole and left the whole city powerless.

Though there were no emergencies during that time, dispatchers would have been hard pressed to handle one, thanks to the deluge of power outage calls. “Had there been other 911 emergencies, the abilities of the dispatchers to take the calls and dispatch the calls would have been seriously hindered by constant non-emergency phone calls ringing in,” Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. said via email.

Central Dispatch Director Dan Morden weighed in like so: “We pride ourselves on handling each call with care and consideration. However, that becomes more and more difficult when a center is flooded with phone calls. When we experience high call volumes the telecommunicators must triage calls. Triaging calls is a rapid assessment when telecommunicators will be only looking for new incident information and only obtaining location, type, time and call-back information of new incidents being reported. If the caller is reporting only already-known information, or asking questions we do not have answers to, we are forced to promptly disconnect so as to answer other calls, and dispatch first responders as required by the nature of incidents. In Gratiot County this is typically accomplished with only two dispatchers on duty at any given time.”

Implementing a power outage response system “remains a high priority for management,” said City Manager Kurt Giles via email.  “But with so many other things going on in 2020 we haven’t progressed to the point of making recommendations. I don’t believe I can be too much more specific on customer information capabilities until we get to the point of looking at what IT system(s) we will recommend and capabilities they have.”

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