As U.S. utilities made projections for the summer months and predicted there would be enough capacity to meet demand with no outages, Mother Nature seemed to have other plans.
On Friday, June 29, 2012, a major storm sprang out of the Midwest and assaulted the Mid-Atlantic states. The storm, called a “derecho,” which means “straight” in Spanish, moved quickly but with hurricane-force winds. Utilities had little time to prepare.
The region—specifically, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and Washington, D.C.—took the brunt of the storm, knocking millions of utility customers offline. Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., declared states of emergency.
Recovery efforts mounted after the storm passed with crews facing a Herculean task. Most utilities estimated full restoration of service would take more than one week. Pepco, the utility serving Maryland and the District of Columbia, could only offer customers the blanket estimation of 90 percent restored by the following Friday, July 6, at 11 p.m.
Adding to the discomfort of the residents who lost power, most of the region endured a record-setting heat wave that spawned the derecho, and many suffered the aftermath and 100-degree temperatures with no air conditioning.
As temperatures soared, the affected states recorded dozens of heat-related deaths, placing even more pressure on crews to get customers back online quickly. Though the deaths could not be directly attributable to the power loss brought on by the storm, the Department of Health officials reported finding many of the bodies in homes without air conditioning. Maryland alone reported 18 heat-related deaths during the heat wave in the week following the storm.
Vital service outages weren’t limited to electricity. Northern Virginia experienced disruptions to its 911 emergency service, requiring a response from Verizon. The storm knocked out both the primary and backup power to a Verizon facility in Arlington, Va., disrupting 911 service in Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William counties and the city of Manassas, all in Virginia. Calls began going through the day after the storm, but operators could not see callers’ locations until Monday. One death was reported as a direct result of the outage, and authorities expressed displeasure with the system’s redundancies.
Water services also were affected. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission customers in Maryland’s two largest counties faced mandatory water restrictions because the storm knocked out power to two water filtration plants and other facilities.
Most utilities finished restoration in approximately a week, but in some areas, outages lingered. Ten days after the storm, Appalachian Power, which serves West Virginia and Virginia, still had 45,000 customers offline.
Support crews came from Missouri, Oklahoma and New Brunswick, Canada. Utilities had to pull from atypical areas because the disaster was so widespread.
With restoration complete, officials looked toward the future, and D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh announced a proposal to require Pepco to bury more power lines in the area in an attempt to prevent such a confluence of events from happening again.