Inside Doug's Head

I am not a number, I am… What's that stuff they make glue out of? I'm that. Forever swirling, forwards and upwards, but always sticky. Sometimes, a little sad.

Once again, New York prepares for the arrival of a hurricane. Seasonal storms are like Christmas chum to the retailers of hardware supplies, flashlights and batteries, portable generators, and bottled water. Selling emergency supplies to the masses who are driven by media-induced panic and beset by overwhelming fear is like selling crack to the homeless. The comfort and security that comes from knowing you have out prepared your neighbors by hoarding every last useful item on the stores’ shelves in a fanatical need to achieve a level of preparation that would make the Boy Scouts proud is certainly worth the effort. It should be an Olympic sport.

The utility companies are prepared for the storm. They even have trucks and crews “standing by” to deal with the inevitable downed power lines and the ensuing city wide blackouts. So, besides paying them Sunday overtime rates to sit around in trucks parked in front of doughnut shops for the next 48 hours, what else could they have work crews doing?

You see, the wind does not directly blow down power or other utility lines all by itself. Most often the wind blows down tree branches that are near the power lines, and the weight of a dead branch is enough to pull the lines from their supporting fixtures.

Everywhere around New York there are trees growing into, through, over, and around power lines. The Parks Department routinely plants trees, for some inexplicable reason, directly under every aerial power line in the city. However, small trees, like kittens, grow up to be cats. That isn’t quite right. Just as kittens grow up to be cats, small trees grow up to be tall trees with big branches that eventually break off and destroy power lines.


Here are pictures of a few of the trees I have been expecting to collapse on the utility lines in front of my house.


These ones are in front of my neighbor’s house. It is hard to tell where the power lines end and the tree begins. The tree branches are the ones with leaves on them.


The branches are resting on the drop line running to the house. A little rain, with maybe some ice and wind, will cause the branch to break, and we will all lose power for days and days.


When these ones go, they should blackout the entire neighborhood.


Definitely a need for some pruning, here. There is a telecom enclosure mounted on the pole. A closer look reveals that it is missing its cover.


An enclosure without a cover is called an opening. It is no wonder we lose phone and cable service every time it rains. This city has the electrical infrastructure characteristic of many third world countries. The trees are owned by the city and the lines are owned by the utility companies, and neither one will take responsibility for the maintenance of the other.

OK, so I live on a pretty crappy street. This appalling display of neglect is not the situation just in my neighborhood. The following pictures were taken in the more gentrified areas of Tarrytown, NY.


Here we see a fiber enclosure with its door left wide open. It has obviously been this way for a significant amount of time, judging by the leaves and detritus inside of it.


Yeah, I don’t think that allowing cables to rest on tree branches as a means of providing support meets any of the applicable electrical codes. The tree sways to and fro in the wind, and the cables don’t. Eventually, the insulation will erode off the cabling and cause whatever it is supposed to be protecting to come in contact with the tree. Remember: trees conduct electricity. Although these are not power lines, losing your phone, cable, and internet access just because someone could not think far enough ahead to to not route essential services through tree branches is rather infuriating.


The insulation on this cable has already been pulled apart under the strain of the branches weighing it down.


When all of the lashing that is supposed to be holding the cables together has been peeled back so that it looks like a slinky, well, it can’t be good. Even the messenger cable that  normally would be supporting all of the weight has broken. It is actually hard to believe that these pictures were taken before the storm and not after.

Instead of sitting around waiting for bad things to happen, the utility workers should be out doing some preventative line maintenance. Trimming even a single tree branch before the storm can keep an entire neighborhood from losing power during the storm. It is easier to stop the failure beforehand than it is to repair afterwards. Unless you would prefer to be heralded as heroes for all of the after the fact effort you put in while getting paid a truckload of money to fix something that broke, rather than taking a few minutes to keep it from breaking in the first place.

Since it is too late to do much about it now, when the next storm looms let’s hear a bit less from the utilities advising  people to buy emergency supplies, and see a lot more work on their part to mitigate the effects of the disaster before it arrives. After all, heroes who contribute to disasters and devastation, don’t deserve a whole lot of praise for their gross negligence. How does that saying go? An ounce of prevention is better than a ton of litigation.


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