Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Whistling in the Dark

Thursday, 10:30 am, was when the power failed. Lights went out, fans stopped moving, the fridge's hum fell silent.
This was nothing unusual; a quick glance at the website for the Autoridad de Energia Electrica (www.aeepr.com) on an average day will show many areas with power problems and we had had a 17 hour outage ourselves a couple of weeks earlier. So it wasn't until that afternoon that my wife phoned me in work to let me know there was a problem and I reported it on the AEE website (twice, as they claimed on Twitter not to have received the first report).
[I gave my address]
That evening, as the sun went down and the lights came on, it became apparent that ours was the only house without power. I checked the fuse box – everything was normal. I also checked the main breaker – I couldn't move it. Whether this was because it was tripped or because it had simply stuck in position I couldn't tell, and there were no markings visible in the twilight to say if it was on or not (we later found it had 'ON' and 'OFF' marked in black-on-black, really useful in a power cut). We phoned AEE – having to use the long-distance 'metro' number as the 'isla' number was permanently engaged – and heard our sector on the (long) list of sectors with problems, so assumed my report had entered the system.
Later that night we went around to a friend's house and charged up our mobile phone, while also using their internet connection to submit an amended report on the AEE  website to say it was only our house that was affected.
After a night spent by gaslight, with a battery-powered fan to keep us cool (thanks, Coleman), I headed off to work on Friday morning. I checked to see if our sector was on the list of sectors with problems on the website – it wasn't, so I reported it again. As we had now been without power for 24 hours I gave it the reference '24h sin luz' and again tweeted the fact that I had reported it.
[I gave them my address again, noting that it hadn't changed since yesterday]
[Sondy chipped in with a description of where the house was]
[Translation: It has not been reported on the webpage. Send your name, address, telephone number, and account number]
[The web system didn't give a confirmation number, but I hoped they might be referring to the reference you were required to give when submitting a report]
I then reported it again, in case I'd missed something on the final page, with the reference 'Still no power'. All the final page said was 'Su sector ha sido notificado' (your sector has been notified), so I told them this as well.
No such luck!
Eventually they surrendered, and gave me an email address – for the press office! I emailed my details to the press office, who were able to put my complaint into the system. Finally, after 25h without power and over 20 hours after my first report, I had a case number. Soon the problem would be fixed. As if...
By six that evening, nothing had happened, so I tried phoning AEE again at about twenty-past. After ten minutes spent listening to the list of sectors with reported problems (which we didn't feature on this time) and ten minutes on hold listening to a message saying I could check their website at ww-prensa-com (two 'w's, and 'dash' instead of 'dot'), I finally got through to a human.
I had told the system earlier that I wanted to communicate in English, and the repeated messages about the website had been in English, but I still wasn't surprised to find the system had routed me to an operator who didn't speak English. This is perfectly normal here.
I also wasn't surprised when her response to my telling her I had had no power for 32 hours was to hang up on me. Puerto Ricans are some of the most helpful people around – except for the ones whose job is to actually help customers, who will generally give up at the first hurdle. Hanging up is a common (I might almost say standard) response to getting a call from a customer who doesn't speak perfect Spanish. While there are English-speaking operators, the systems never have any way of routing calls to them or transferring calls once you've actually got through. If it's really important, you can keep trying until you get lucky...
That evening we went to our local internet cafe (Burger King) and sent a complaint over Twitter to the mayor's office about AEE's lack of response. We managed to avoid getting ketchup on the tablet.