My mother always insisted that I was one in a million. Recently, I received incontrovertible confirmation that I am actually 10 in a million, and it came from an unlikely source: Florida Power & Light.
When Hurricane Irma landed, 1,020,255 Miami-Dade FPL subscribers lost power. As of Thursday morning, I was one of just 10 remaining, according to FPL’s outage map. I finally got power at about 2 p.m.
From a public-relations perspective, FPL’s storm response had been stellar. Just try getting anyone, from FPL President Eric Silagy down to a customer-service representative, to stray from the carefully crafted messaging. Those talking points remained consistent in everything FPL communicated: “This was an unprecedented outage. We are working around the clock. We have assembled the largest workforce in history. We won’t rest until your power is back on.”
There is a problem with broadsword messaging — at some point, a scalpel is needed. It is understandable that subscribers must hold the line when there are 4 million others without power. Lack of information can even be excused when hundreds of thousands remain in the dark.
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But after almost two weeks sleeping in sweat, resting your hand on your little daughter’s chest as she wheezes through 90-degree Florida summer nights with no end in sight, you, too, might declare your refugee status to the Free State of Residence Inn-istan.
Twelve days after the storm, FPL could no more accurately tell me when my home’s power would be restored than the moment it was interrupted. Absent any real communication, a creeping madness set in after 10 days of being ignored by a monolithic, unapproachable institution.
You feel frenzied, wanting to scream at customer-service agents over the phone when you’ve always hated jerks who do that. You become certain there is something singularly sinister about your trouble ticket, but no one will listen. You set your watch to the routine of false restoration notices followed by disappointment. File another ticket.
Back of the line.
You ponder insane contingencies. What if the power never comes back? What if my house exists in a vortex of irreparable grid failure? What if I take a chainsaw to the service pole in my backyard, will someone come then? You drive aimlessly, looking for signs of FPL activity.
The lack of communication and dearth of expectations causes real pain, lost productivity, erosion in relationships, lack of sleep and tension headaches as you ping-pong from home to work to hotel to seedier hotel.
Trust me, the details of my 10-in-a-million case were as banal as they were unique, and at this point everyone is burnt out on hearing each other’s Irma war stories. Busted transformers, phantom trouble tickets, broken main lines. Meanwhile, the narrative shifts, and Irma becomes old news.
At least that’s how it felt. The communication gaps bred helplessness, desperation.
Why do we hide a public utility behind a private “corporate” veneer, making it so unaccountable? Why do we accept platitudes and PR as substitutes for planning and infrastructure development? Why is no one responsible for poles that look like they were put up during the Coolidge administration?
Maybe the only thing more maddening than feeling like you’re one voice in a sea of complaints is when those million voices recede and disappear, and you’re the last one remaining.
Or in this case, one of the last 10.
David Quiñones is a resident of South Miami Park in unincorporated Miami-Dade County.