Downtown Businesses Navigate Power Outage

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Businesses not observing Presidents Day as a federal holiday were forced to make other arrangements due to a pair of power outages scheduled by Ohio Edison today, and some companies reported they didn’t receive advance notification.

Chris Eck, FirstEnergy Corp. senior communications representative, described the area of the outage as a “trapezoidal shape” southwest of Commerce Street toward the Mahoning River, including portions of Federal and Front streets. FirstEnergy is the holding company for Ohio Edison.

The power outage was necessary to switch downtown customers to another circuit while work is performed, Eck said. Then, in the afternoon, those customers will be switched back to their normal circuit, he explained.

The shutdowns were scheduled because of work being done at the U.S. Postal Service’s office downtown required the circuit for that area to be shut off, Eck said.

The first outage was scheduled for 8 to 9:30 a.m. today, although power was not restored until just before 10 a.m. at the Ohio One Building, and other downtown buildings were still having power restored around 10:45 a.m. A second outage is set for 2 to 3:30 p.m.

“The goal is to do it when it impacts the fewest number of folks,” Eck said. The outage affected about 100 customers, including The Business Journal, at 40 addresses downtown. The work also had to be aligned with when workers are available, Eck said.

“There’s any number of other factors,” he said. “Sunday wouldn’t have worked.”

Today is Presidents Day, when federal state and local government offices, including the courts, are closed, as well as banks. But according to a 2016 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, just 34% of organizations typically observe the holiday.

Traffic lights were out at several intersections this morning. These included Walnut and Front streets, Commerce and East Federal Street, and East Federal and Andrews Avenue. The light at the intersection of East Boardman and Hazel Street was also out.

There were no safety officers directing traffic at any of the locations.

Two businesses downtown, Mercy Health’s data processing center on Commerce Street and MS Consultants’ building on East Federal Street, were not notified by FirstEnergy that they would be included in the outage on Monday, according to multiple sources.

Employees reported to work Monday morning only to find the electricity shut off. Initially, the outage was to extend to 9:30 a.m., but service was not restored until 10:45 a.m. to MS Consultants’ building.

Eck said he believed all customers who were going to be affected by the outage were notified in advance.

For some organizations that were scheduled to operate today, the outage meant making other arrangements.

Power was out at WFMJ Television, but the station was able to broadcast on both its NBC affiliate and WBCB, its CW station, without interruptions. Jack Grdic, station manager, said station officials met with Ohio Edison representatives, and the station has “a good relationship” with Valley Electric Consolidated Inc. in Girard.

“We obtained a generator that is able to power both stations,” Grdic said.

Power was restored to the station around 10:45 a.m. The only impact to programming was for the first half hour of the noon news, during which alternative programming was broadcast. “We expect to also broadcast through the second outage beginning at 2 p.m. today,” he said.

The Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, which has its office in the Commerce Building, scheduled an off-site meeting for this morning, said Shari Harrell, president. Because there was no power and no calls coming in, it’s hard to judge whether people tried to reach the foundation and were unable to, though she said most people were aware of the potential outage.

Staff also have plenty of internal paperwork to work on, so the outage won’t set the organization back much, she said.

“It’s more of an inconvenience for us than anything else,” she said. “It slows us down on the work we do online, but it’s not all day and we had warning, so we just tried to do the best we could to work around it.”

Jim Houck, president of the Houck Agency in the Ohio One Building, said his landlord, Ohio One Corp., gave him “ample warning” about the power outage, giving him plenty of time to plan around it.

“We understand the case for it happening today and were only mildly inconvenienced,” he said.

Another Ohio One Building tenant, Rebecca Tennant, owner of Studio 543, also said she was notified in advance of the outage. She came in later in the morning, which she doesn’t like to do, and will meet with clients on site and run errands for her company in the afternoon.

“I don’t think they needed to do it right when business started, especially on a Monday when I’m getting caught up with all my emails,” she said. “It’s putting me behind.”

The second outage today initially was scheduled to run from 3:30 to 5 p.m. before being changed to 6 to 7:30 p.m. and then again, on Friday, to the 2 to 3:30 p.m. slot.

Eric Ryan, executive director of the Covelli Centre, said he was informed that the power would be out during the morning hours, but was not informed of the change in schedule regarding the afternoon outage.

“We did not know about the rescheduled time until this morning,” Ryan said. “We’re adjusting accordingly right now.”

Even businesses and organizations not open today had to take precautions. The Better Business Bureau of Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull Counties follows the holiday schedule of its headquarters and was closed today, said Melissa Ames, vice president of BBB services. “But we did have to take precautions for our computer and phone systems for the outage,” she said.

During the shutdowns, Ohio Edison crews are working on sectionalizing into smaller grids, “so if we have to cut one down it doesn’t affect as many customers at one time” in the future, Eck said.

“If this is something that had to be done, picking a day that you knew some of the businesses would be closed probably makes sense, but it’s not a holiday that everybody gets off, so I don’t know how much good that did,” The Community Foundation’s Harrell said.

“Friday afternoon could have been a better day. I think they could have thought it through better,” Studio 534’s Tennant said.

Dan O’Brien and Sarah Kelley contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.