COLUMBUS, Ohio — Franklin County EMA Director Jeff Young said he started to become aware of the AEP Ohio power outages Tuesday afternoon at roughly the same time many others were discovering them – as power was being cut off from one neighborhood to another.
He said he finally started calling AEP Ohio himself around 4 p.m. that afternoon, trying to get answers so that his agency could work to minimize potential impacts on neighborhoods.
He said the first sanctioned report from AEP Ohio came around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"I'm frustrated with not receiving active, operational, proactive information, which then puts us at a disadvantage for managing impact on neighborhoods,” Young said.
He said he continued to try to contact AEP Ohio to pass along information, including concerns about the Franklin County Dog Shelter, which had lost power.
He pointed out the communication was so lax that the only indication he had of an impending power outage was when his own building lost power and had to move to the generator.
Meanwhile, it appears other agencies were in touch with AEP Ohio.
Officials at the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees several state government buildings, including the Riffe Center and Rhodes Office Tower, sent out multiple messages to tenants within those buildings and made their way to some state workers, including state lawmakers.
In the first message, sent out at 4:24 p.m. Tuesday, DAS warned of interruptions to the power supply, adding, “We are aware of the issue and working directly with AEP to limit any impact to DAS owned buildings.”
That message went out more than a half-hour before AEP Ohio alerted the media that the power outages that day had been intentional and might continue.
In a release sent at 5:01 p.m. Tuesday, AEP Ohio stated, “Combined with impacts from the heat today, lines were overloaded and we were forced to take some customers offline to protect the system and reduce the risk of longer, widespread outages.”
Communications from DAS continued Tuesday night and into Wednesday. Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, posted on Facebook the text message he received early Wednesday morning.
“AEP has notified us that they will be doing intentional rolling outages today that will impact the Riffe. Therefore, we are implementing WFH today, Wednesday, June 15.”
In the end, the Riffe Center did not lose power on Wednesday, and there had been rumors that the governor’s office had intervened to prevent that from happening. However, both a spokesman from the governor’s office and DAS denied that claim.
“No individual from either DAS or the Governor’s Office intervened to prevent the Riffe Center from losing power,” said a statement from DAS. “In fact, the Riffe Center experienced a small period of reduced power Tuesday afternoon.”
AEP leaders responded to criticism about communication by pointing out that the outages on Tuesday were emergencies, leaving no time to alert anyone ahead of time, adding that all communications after that indicated that forced outages were possible.
“We did have key account managers working with our critical service and high-volume customers to ensure that critical facilities were supported,” read a statement to 10TV. “DAS manages the state of Ohio account and is a large customer, so we would have been in contact with them. However, we did not offer any information to them that would not have been available at that time to the public.”
However, the Franklin County EMA office shared with 10TV a Thursday afternoon communication directly from AEP Ohio, which warned of more potential forced outages, information that was not included in a media release from AEP Ohio sent out at roughly the same time.
The EMA email said the following:
“Emergency forced outages are still a potential for today. Multiple transmission lines have been restored but work continues to restore additional 138KV lines.
We hope to avoid outages, but to protect the overall integrity of the grid, we may have to take out some circuits.
I wanted to reach out to you in the event your counties are impacted and hope this information helps you prepare.”
A spokesperson with AEP responded with the following:
Critical infrastructure like hospitals and public safety facilities are important to remain in contact with because they are providing critical services to the public.
Similarly EMA directors play a critical role. When that message was sent no emergency outages were imminent and we had stated publicly that we were monitoring the performance of the system.
We did ask customers via our social channels and with help from media outlets to conserve energy during peak hours today to reduce the potential of further emergency outages.