Tuesday, 29 December 2009

When the power goes out...

A little while ago, one of my friends text me because the power had gone out in her building. She was wondering whether the power was out where I was. Fortunately for me, the power was just fine.

So I thought to myself, "I've got the power of the Internet to look into these things!" Off to Google, and it turns out it's pretty hard to find out about recent power outages. What came up was lots and lots of old news about previous outages that were already fixed. Now I'm pretty good with my Google-fu, so maybe it was just a minor outage and thus less (or no) news.

However, I did manage to find this little page. It's a map with the location of power outages and repairs in regions covered by HydroOne, the power distribution company for Ontario. Now this is how important services should be run. The information is available easily, and quickly. In fact, it's got its own link right on the front page. The one problem is, if you follow the blue line, you'll see that Toronto is excluded. That's because we have our own local power supply company here, Toronto Hydro. So I can't find out about my friend's problem from HydroOne.

What can I find on Toronto Hydro's website? Absolutely nothing. Well, actually, what I found was a lot of stuff I don't want. There are many pages about things I might be interested in if I were a customer. But the most important information, the availability of the service, is not there. It would be great if the power never went out, but let's face it, even with perfect equipment, someone's going to go drive into a transformer or something that's going to disrupt service. The closest thing I could find about service reliability on Toronto Hydro's site is to "Report a Streetlight out". While a broken streetlight is unsafe in certain locations, wouldn't the power being out be even worse? I guess they just figure that if the power's out in your area, you won't be able to look up the fact that the power's out or when it's going to be fixed.


Elizabeth Han said...

The Hydro One site is a great find!! Disappointing that it doesn't work for Toronto itself.

Not to annoy you with my obsession, but simply 'finding out' about power outages...I would use Twitter. When Google stuff goes down, I go for the #gfail hashtag. Google has integrated Twitter with real-time search so actually the tweets might show up in the Google search, though I found it's kind of erratic.

For the very pretty maps bit, I don't know of anything. We probably need mashups. An iphone app?

Maybe this is something that could be requested at Data TO (our open data project)? http://www.datato.org/app/

QuLogic said...

Right, Twitter would be nice for seeing how localized the problem is, but I could just look out the window. ;) And I'd guess that non-technical people (unlike us) would go for the website (although the inclusion of tweets in Google results may well change that).

Also, I guess when I say "about", I'd want to know about whether repairs are scheduled, in progress, etc. And I suspect normal tweeters would not have access to said information, and tweeting-on-the-job for the repair crew might not be too acceptable.

Of course, the pretty maps aren't entirely necessary. Toronto Hydro could just tweet their status. :P I'm not an iPhone user, but if it were available, I know of ways to get something together for a N900 or a Palm Pre. I own neither of those, though.

DataTO does look like an interesting initiative, but I've been waiting for it to get something more "cool?". I'm not sure what that is exactly, maybe something more realtime.

Ting said...

Some friend texted you eh... :P

QuLogic said...

Yea, don't you just wonder who that might be?