By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
When thousands of Oshawa residents were left without power for several hours on Nov. 14, many tried to figure out what was going on. While some turned to social media and the internet, retiree Brian Simpson thought he’d give the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation a call.
There was just one problem: nobody was picking up the phone.
“The thing rang, I think, 12 times, and then the line just went blank. Nothing. I did that probably three times during the first outage and probably a couple more times during the one that went from 8 p.m. to 10:30, 11ish,” he says.
“I never did talk to a person, I couldn’t leave a message, I couldn’t do anything because the thing just went blank.”
Seeking someone to explain to him why the lights were out, Simpson says he called neighbouring Whitby Hydro to see if they had an alternative contact number for OPUC – he was given the same number that he had been calling unsuccessfully.
During the two power outages on Nov. 14, OPUC posted updates to its Twitter account, as well as kept a map of effected areas on its website. Simpson, however, says this does little for those that do not have access to online resources.
“Eighteen thousand people, there’s got to be a number of them that have serious health problems and if something cropped up and…the internet is down, you’re not going to be getting any updates from Twitter,” he says.
“I think they have a major responsibility, and I think the weak spot seems to be the availability of the telephone service side of it.”
Simpson adds that rather than having the phone line disconnect after nobody picks up, OPUC should have a message that will come up informing callers of the lines being busy, notifying them of what is happening, and giving an option to leave a message if they need a call back.
When contacted by The Oshawa Express, OPUC president Ivano Labricciosa says that while he had not heard about any complaints in regards to the utility’s response on Nov. 14, he would be inquiring to see what happened.
According to Labricciosa, OPUC does not have any staff in the office during off hours, instead contracting after hour responses to an outside agency, adding this service also provides an automated response if lines are busy to notify whoever is calling what is going on.
He says that what happened to Simpson and other callers like him should not have happened.
“There shouldn’t be any dropped calls. The pick up and hang up should never be happening, so we have a call in to our service provider to see if there have been any agents that have been behaving that way just to make sure that that didn’t happen,” he says.
Labricciosa adds that OPUC also has an automated dialing system, which will call people in affected areas to let them know what is going on during power outages. He says that approximately 18,000 calls were made on the night of the blackout.
In order to ensure customers receive such calls, Labricciosa says, they must have an up to date phone number on their billing account with OPUC.
The utility’s CEO says that following the ice storm in 2014 that left many in the city without power – and many complaining about being unable to get in touch with OPUC to see when their lights were going to come back on – the number of phone lines going into OPUC were doubled.