The Anniversary of the 2003 Blackout

On August 12, 2003, Ontario saw one of the largest power outages ever recorded. Along with parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, all power was lost for upwards of seven hours, and in some cases even several days.  In fact, the Northeast blackout of 2003 is the ninth-largest major power outage in the world, felt by over 50 million people. It still remains the largest power outage in the history of North America. In honor of the anniversary of the blackout, let’s take a look back at how Erb Transport was handling the crisis.

On August 14, 2003, Erb Transport was dealing with the blackout as was any other company; trying not to ascend into full-fledged panic mode. Surprisingly, we did this with great success. In the Information and Technology (IT) department, the blackout quickly became irrelevant. Vic Thiessen, the Vice President of IT, explained that “for everyone here at Head Office, it was a non-issue”. Vic explained that Head Office was well equipped to handle the situation, due to a similar experience they had already learned from. In the late 1980’s, Erb had experienced what they thought was a small, 15 second power outage. This initially small blackout eventually turned into a 20-hour computer access outage; a very difficult situation to recover from. Immediately after this crisis was solved, Erb Transport invested in the correct infrastructure to prevent it from happening again. We responded with the purchase of a new back-up generator and UPS, and the confidence to deal with power outages properly from then on. In 2003, the backup generator proved to be absolutely worth it.

Now, not every terminal had a backup generator. Terry Woody, Operations Project Specialist here at Erb, also remembers the blackout like it was yesterday. “I was helping Mississauga at the time” he recalls.  Immediately after the blackout began, he started teaching the employees how to record the pro number, shipper, consignee, pieces and weight of every single outbound load. Terry recalls the employees looking at him like they’d just seen a ghost, “you’ve got to be kidding me!” they were thinking.

One of the Mississauga clients at the time even asked for 21 empty trailers to be delivered to them as soon as possible, as they had no idea how long their freezer would hold their product in a frozen state. Unfortunately, because of the volume of frozen products that the Mississauga terminal itself had, they were unable to meet the request. There wasn’t a single empty trailer! It became clear that businesses everywhere were trying to find help wherever they could.

Thankfully, Terry explained that the Maintenance Supervisor at Mississauga used his connections and quick thinking skills to acquire a full size generator out of Oakville. They had the generator by noon that day, and only had to run manually for about three hours. Terry explained that the look of relief on the staff’s faces was photo-worthy.

Overall, Erb’s management team and employees were well-equipped and properly trained enough to handle a crisis of this magnitude. We made it through, like everyone else; with some memorable stories and many lessons learned.


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