Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the 2003 Blackout that caused 50 million people across eight states and part of Canada to lose power. Here at Franco Public Relations Group, the significance of this date got us thinking about where we were at that time - and how far our power grid has come since then. Not only did the blackout affect all of us personally, Franco played a key role in communicating the cause of the blackout through our work with our client, ITCTransmission.
At the time of the blackout, ITC was emerging as the nation’s first independent electric transmission provider. Moments after the lights went out, Franco sprung into action. As ITC researched the cause of the blackout, Franco worked around the clock developing a communications plan and reaching out to local and national media, as well as state and federal regulators.
As the first company to provide an accurate account of how the blackout began, ITC’s research has played a vital role in developing regulations for utilities that have helped increase the reliability of the grid and prevent future blackouts from occurring. In the past 10 years, ITC has made significant investments within its footprint to improve the technology and infrastructure of the grid. Its transmission lines are among the most reliable in the United States, consistently performing in the top decile.
Even without power, metro Detroiters came together as a community in ways they never had before. Our Franco staff members took a look back at those days in August 2003 to reflect on how the event shaped where they were and how far we’ve come:
- I was working with the Walter P. Chrysler Museum 10 years ago and getting ready for an auto enthusiast event. It was way too coincidental that just as I was plugging equipment into the exterior outlet on the Museum’s back patio, everything went dead inside the Museum. A co-worker ran down, demanding to know what I had done. I was speechless until we realized the full extent of the blackout. But, nothing keeps a PR person – or auto enthusiast – down. We shifted our now acoustic program to the front lawn in time to welcome a steady stream of cruisers that pulled into our parking lot. –Pat Adanti-Joy, vice president
- The business owners in downtown Ferndale really taught me something memorable about the importance of community. The convenience store kept its doors opened and, without use of a cash register, accepted personal checks to sell goods like bottled water to those in need – like me. The local coffee shop offered free coffee and friendly conversation as many visitors had no access to cash without the use of ATMs.As a journalist at the time, I found feel-good stories human interest in abundance. Looking back those business owners understood all it takes to keep moving forward, and keeping customers in good standing, no matter what the circumstances may be. I have always remembered and appreciated their goodwill and it informs the way I advise my consumer clients even today. – Stephanie Angelyn Casola, account manager
- Ever since I can remember, my dad has preached the practice of always having gas in your car. Years before I could even drive, I remember him going on about it. The Blackout of 2003 was proof that you never know what’s going to happen. Working in public relations, this couldn’t be more true. You never know when the phone will ring and you’ll need to leave immediately because of a client crisis. These are the moments that mean the most, so always be prepared and don’t forget, always have gas in your car! – Cayce Karpinski, assistant account executive
- On August 14, 2003, I was working as an assistant manager at Panera Bread when the blackout happened. Since the power knocked everything out, including registers, we decided to give our customers a free pastry from the bake shop. This was my first experience in community relations. Little did I know that 10 years later, I would be doing this as my full-time career. I enjoy working with clients such as The Salvation Army, helping feed and shelter people on a daily basis. Can you say, “fate?” – Andrea Kenski, account executive
- My parents were fortunate enough to own a generator so we were one of very few families who had some source of electricity at our house. I recall running extension cords to two of our neighbors’ houses to keep their refrigerators running. People we had never met before stopped by to ask if we would allow them to charge their cell phones. In total, it was a nice experience to get to know our community better and building neighborly bonds. – Richard Kuhn, public relations coordinator
- As the sales representative began to swipe my mother’s credit card, all the lights went out in the Marshall Fields at the Westland Shopping Center. My 17-year-old sister began to panic as thoughts of losing her dream Homecoming dress filled her mind. Luckily, the kind sales representative was able to put her gown on hold, and we later picked it up when the power was up-and-running. I didn’t realize it then, but 14-year-old me had just witnessed excellence in customer service and community relations – a quality that would become the core of my professional career. – Marie Stawasz, assistant account executive
- At the time, I was a communications major at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. During the summer, I worked for the admissions office as an orientation leader for incoming students. I realized that traffic was backing up on Evergreen Road because traffic signals were out. Then, I heard the news on the radio. Fortunately, the outage happened at the end of orientation and all of the incoming students had completed their online registration for classes. The impact to me was minimal. It took me over an hour to get home, which was only 15 miles away. I was lucky to receive power back at home in less than 24 hours. – Tim Trunzo, senior account executive
Dan Horn is an Account Manager at Franco.