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The Great Power Outage of 2010

On Sunday the 29th of August, an unprecedented power outage blacked out downtown Eugene and caused the Kiva to lose electricity for 14 hours.  According to EWEB, a single cable failed in an underground vault.  The resulting spark caused an electrical fire, which subsequently caused protective equipment designed to prevent a cascading outage to fail. This became dramatically obvious when three manhole covers at 11th and Pearl blew off and large plumes of smoke and flame shot up into the air.  Before the fire could be safely put out, EWEB had to turn off power to the downtown grid, leaving 28 blocks of downtown Eugene without power.  EWEB crews worked around the clock to replace more than 3,000 feet of cable and restore power to the area.

For the Kiva, the timing of the power outage magnified its effects.  When it became clear later Sunday afternoon that the power was going to be out for an extended period of time, we spent hours on the phone, calling everyone we could think of that might be able to help.  Unfortunately, we were unable to find a way to preserve our refrigerated and frozen inventory.  We tried other grocers, vendors with refrigerated trucks, electricians, generator rentals… to no avail.  The combination of this happening on a Sunday afternoon with so many businesses already closed and so many generators already rented for the Eugene Celebration made for very unfortunate timing.  Since then, we have been making contingency plans that will hopefully ensure that if a catastrophic power outage occurs again (very unlikely), we will be ready for it.

From 2:30 PM Sunday afternoon until early Monday morning, the Kiva was without power.  The coolers and freezers on the sales floor warmed above the legal limits, and Monday morning we faced the task of tallying and getting rid of an entire store’s worth of refrigerated and frozen inventory while simultaneously arranging unscheduled deliveries from local vendors to restock the store as fast as possible.  Our number one goal was to make sure that no salvageable food was wasted.  We owe a great big thank you to the Eugene Mission, Food For Lane County, Shelter Care and the East Blair Housing Coop for their help on Monday.  These charitable organizations lent their refrigerated trucks and manpower to  haul away a mountain of food. The Eugene Mission in particular returned several times as we inventoried and emptied more coolers, and they even lent us the use of their own crates.  Without their willingness to work with us in a very hectic environment, it would have been much harder to salvage and donate as much food as we did.

Our number two goal was to stay open for business and get back to normal as fast as possible.  To that end we owe a giant debt to Lochmead, Nancy’s Springfield Creamery, Toby’s and many other local vendors who put together orders on short notice and showed up to stock their product and get our coolers and freezers full again.  Another big thank you goes out to all the Kiva shoppers who came on down and shopped with us on Monday even though we had limited inventory.  I personally want to thank all the Kiva employees who put in a VERY hard days work and did it with a smile.  It was a difficult situation, but we made the best of it and I feel good as the Kiva manager about how little was actually wasted.

Some of you may have seen news coverage of this power outage.  KVAL news chose to focus on food being thrown in the Kiva dumpster and subsequently salvaged by dumpster divers.  The total amount of food thrown in the dumpster represented less than 10% of the total lost inventory, and mostly consisted of items from the open-faced dairy coolers that had warmed to room temperature for over six hours before the power came back on.  Nothing that could have been donated was thrown away – even charitable organizations ask that food that could potentially be a health risk not be donated.  People who were willing to risk it did organize a large group to salvage the food that was placed in the dumpster for immediate consumption.  In the end, very little food was wasted at all.

A number of customers have expressed concerns about the Kiva’s ability to recover from this setback.  Let me assure everyone that we will not have to pass on any costs from the power outage to our customers in the form of price increases.  We are working with EWEB and our insurance company to recover the losses we incurred.  The Kiva is going to be just fine!

By Tuesday morning, a large order had arrived and the store was more or less back to normal.  We all collected our collective breath and moved on with business as usual.  We feel content with the knowledge that we did everything in our power to recover from the power outage as quickly as possible while donating every last item of salvageable food to local charities that could ensure the food got to those in need.  I am proud to work at a store and live in a community that values good food and pulls together in a crisis.  Thanks Eugene!

– Carl Nash
General Manager
Kiva Grocery Store

Sources:
Register Guard article (http://www.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/web/news/cityregion/25236647-41/power-eweb-street-avenue-east.csp)

KVAL article (http://www.kval.com/news/local/101771898.html) and Television News Story (http://www.kval.com/news/local/101834433.html?tab=video)

Personal conversation with EWEB representatives.


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