Official upset by length of power outage

Thursday, February 28, 2008

DEXTER, Mo. -- SEMO Electric Cooperative's response -- or lack thereof according to Stoddard County Ambulance District director David Cooper -- to the recent ice storm that left thousands in Stoddard County without power was the main topic at Tuesday's Stoddard County Ambulance District board of directors meeting.

A repeater tower crucial to the Stoddard County Ambulance District district was left powerless. According to Cooper, when the tower -- which operates the district's emergency radio system for the entire county -- went down, he immediately contacted SEMO Electric about the problem.

In a letter to SEMO Electric Cooperative's board members dated Feb. 14, Cooper explains that about 9 a.m. Feb. 11, he contacted the power company's 800 number to report the power outage at the district's tower.

Cooper said he explained that there is a 24-hour battery backup to the tower, but that power would need to be restored. At that time, Cooper said, he was assured that power would be restored sometime that day.

"Going by what we were told, we didn't worry about taking any emergency measures," Cooper told the board members. "However, power wasn't restored that day."

At 10 a.m. Feb. 12, Cooper placed another call to SEMO Electric.

"Our battery backup ran for 26 hours, and by that time it was down," Cooper said in the letter.

"I spoke to a Mr. Dawson, who was rude and not cooperative at all. He informed me that 'the ambulance district will not be given any service different than a private citizen.' I tried to explain that during times of disaster, normally police, fire, ambulance, hospitals, nursing homes, water systems, etc., are given priority to keep the citizens protected. He advised, 'That's not going to happen.'"

By 8 p.m. Feb. 13, when power still had not been restored to the tower, Cooper placed another call to SEMO Electric Cooperative and was put on hold for 10 to 15 minutes and was then informed that "someone would call him back."

About 9:30 p.m., Cooper said he received a call from SEMO Electric Cooperative general manager Reuben L. Jeane. Cooper said Jeane informed him he was to "not step back on SEMO property, because I was harassing the office staff."

Jeane responded to Cooper's letter by listing the number of crews brought in to help restore power to the power company's customers and by explaining the procedures the company uses as a guide during times of power outages.

"No one community or type of service is given priority over another," Jeane said in his letter. "Concerning your specific outage to your repeater tower northeast of Bloomfield, two crews were pulled from restoring services of residences and moved to that location for a total of six hours each day to provide you service to the tower.

"The Cooperative or any electrical utility can't guarantee 100 percent power without outage," Jeane wrote. "Every individual emergency service provider should take prudent action to ensure that they can continue serving the public."

After board members discussed the feas-ibility of purchasing a generator for the tower, it was decided that if in a similar situation, the district will have Battles Communications program a repeater for and will lease that tower for the time it is needed.

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