Who does ERSA call when it has an emergency?

MCI's Emergency Roadside Assistance operators are used to dealing with just about everything. But when Hurricane Ike drove winds all the way into Kentucky, the emergency they had to overcome was their own.

MCI's Louisville facility lost power for two days, forcing ERSA operators and others to work by candlelight as staff scrambled to keep emergency generators up and running.

Ill winds

Like so many emergencies, it started on a Sunday — September 14. ERSA operator Dean Urbano was getting ready to go to work. He and his wife noticed the winds were getting stiff, but when they saw the neighbor's mailbox blow across their driveway, he knew it might be a rough day at the office. By the time he got in his car, the winds were blowing at 75 to 80 miles per hour. "I couldn't get the car to go over 45 miles per hour," says Urbano, who chose to forgo his usual transportation — his motorcycle.

Once he parked and staggered against the wind to make his way inside, the first thing he noticed was darkness. The ERSA area was entirely without power — no lights, no computers. The one thing that was working was the phone system. And the lines were ringing.

Dialing in the dark

ERSA operator Pat O'Connell was already on the job, attempting to take calls and make notes while simultaneously illuminating her workspace by using a cigarette lighter like a candle. Urbano started doing the same, using sets of reference books in place of ERSA's customary computer database. "We had to go old-school," says Urbano. The pair soon tired of working in the dark, so Urbano called his wife, who drove over with emergency lights.

Bringing the juice

Meanwhile, Michael Anstead director of technical services, was working to improve the power situation, taking three coaches and using their fuel to supply the generator while awaiting an emergency diesel shipment. One of MCI's good customers, Free Enterprise, came through
with a truck full of fuel. Dean Lause, head of IT, rerouted emergency power to ERSA. Other staffers came in as well, including the Technical Call Center's Richard Cunningham, who worked to fashion a better siphon system to get more diesel into the generator.

As luck would have it, it was a light weekend for ERSA. Says Urbano, "We mostly had issues that were easy to overcome — even in the dark." The entire Louisville facility, including ERSA, was functional by Monday morning, and the power company finally restored power at about 2 a.m. Tuesday.

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