When there is a blackout, Karachi isn’t completely in the dark

Published: February 25, 2013

At least 60 of Karachi was reportedly blacked out. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD NOMAN/EXPRESS

It was nearly midnight last night when we lost power here in phase four of Defence, Karachi, and I could immediately tell that it would be a long blackout. As a citizen of this nation, I am unfortunately quite familiar with such outages, and can often tell the nature of the incident in the way the power goes out.

Typically, a loss of power that happens swiftly and on the hour is normally a scheduled piece of load shedding (rolling blackout), though occasionally can also be a half-day long shutdown for neighbourhood maintenance. A loss of power that occurs at a random time period, and is accompanied by a loud boom, is invariably a fault in the neighbourhood power equipment, and requires a wait of a few hours to remedy.

But the worst, of course, is the power outage that occurs at a random time period, isn’t accompanied by a loud sound, and happens with a gradual decline in electricity. This typically is a major breakdown that can sometimes require half a day to fix, and is the sort of outage that happened last night.

Losing power can be quite discouraging, especially if one is in the middle of something that requires electricity, like watching the Oscars.

Three things made the loss of power notably easier to absorb last night.

The first was the fact that we are still in the middle of a pleasant winter weather, which automatically made sleep easier to come.

The second was access to the social networking service, Twitter.

And the third was Argo’s win for best picture, which isn’t something I wanted to see anyway.

As I tweeted out last night, power outages feel less miserable when you know others are in the same dark boat. I realise that the sentiment may sound selfish, but there are few things as lonely as sitting quietly in the dark. From re-tweeted messages on Twitter, it took only moments to learn that the event wasn’t limited just to Karachi, but major cities such as Lahore, Sialkot, Peshawar, and the capital city of Islamabad.

Here, the amusing conspiracy theories began, with fears of war and attacks from terrorists, and sabotage from the one neighbouring country we love to blame (no, not Sri Lanka) on people’s minds. But in the midst of the tidal wave of tweets, I noticed the sane voice of the KESC (Karachi Electric Supply Company), which was surprisingly good at calming the current by providing useful information in a professional manner.

For frustrated Pakistanis, finding a public service that has actually improved over the recent past is an almost hopeless task. If we are turning into a nation of crazed conspiracy theorists, it is because our poorly maintained airplanes are crashing, our factories have turned into death traps, and our minorities are under attack from a furtive organisation that we don’t completely understand.

In such a position, it isn’t surprising that such events are allowing our minds to speculate.

That is why it is heartening to see that the KESC is one of the few services which have improved quite dramatically. I recall six years ago, one had to sometimes beg and even bribe the KESC repair trucks to visit a faulty area, after hours of complaint calls would fall on deaf ears.

Now, in my experience, not only does the Karachi Electric Supply Company respond in a timely fashion to complaints, but seems to also believe in pre-emptive strikes. Often, they will replace transformers and power lines simply because electrical fluctuation was reported in the area, and their investigations revealed flaws in the equipment. It is a level of admirable long run planning that other organisations in Pakistan could take example from.

KESC’s customer service has also improved in the way it interacts with its customers. Many years ago, a phone call to a KESC representative was a frustrating affair, with the official on the other end of the line rude, and short on patience.

Of course, who could completely blame the customer support staff at the time?

With frustrated citizens regularly ringing the helpline, cussing and throwing fits, only a meditation master could handle such phone calls without losing control.

Here, it is obvious that the KESC has trained their staff with exceptional patience and etiquette. Perhaps they were taught by the Dalai Lama, or maybe their staff has access to a psychotherapist. Nowadays, sometimes a KESC representative is so polite and apologetic, that one can’t help but feel the calming positive energy, even when in a bad situation.

KESC also handled the stealing of electricity problem in a commendable manner, launching a public campaign against the harmful issue. It was another example of the organisation trying to bring the public on to their side, creating a hotline for reporting electricity theft.

Aside from that, when their new management came in, they also had to deal with other difficulties like poor infrastructure, and angry customers ready to torch both the KESC staff and the KESC equipment.

The poor infrastructure is still a long way from returning to optimal condition, but it seems that the organisation is improving the city’s framework one step at a time. And as for the upset customers, as evident from the timely tweeting, it is clear that even when we lose power, KESC won’t leave us entirely in the dark.

Read more by Noman here or follow him on Twitter @Pugnate

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

A freelance writer and regular contributor to The Express Tribune magazine and newspaper, Noman tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • omair shahid

    Kesc has improved alot before this blackout which was not there fault there was no load shedding in my area there have introduced a system that if they are getting timely payment there is no load shedding. Recommend

  • Nida

    very well written… when light trip at mid night of the whole country it brings lot of fears related any unknown issues… One the other hand this is Pakistan we should expect any kind of tragedy… Recommend

  • Kaka

    uhhhhh…. we’ll speak again in July buddy.Recommend

  • Bruno

    The power went out at around 11:30 pm here in Phase 2 DHA Khi, the moment it went I knew it wasn’t gonna back anytime soon.

    I believe KESC has improved a lot over the past couple of years, cause here in DHA, we rarely have power outages, but they compensate for that with many hours of load-shedding in other parts of Karachi.Recommend

  • Vicky

    KESC has improved a lot in the past few years. As per my knowledge, they are providing free electricity to all TCF schools, they announced free electricity to Baldia Factory victims, the are supporting local football teams and they are not doing load shedding at places where they have high rate of electricity. Its good to hear that a local company with accumulated losses of around 80 billion is improving at such a fast pace.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely written. I was driving back from a shadi and it all went black…………decidedly not normal load shedding. Praising KESC in public is simply doing them a dis-service. Let them keep doing what they are doing because they know what they are doing and we the public should responsibly do our part. That would be the best praise for KESC. Recommend

  • B+

    KESC’s profit for the six months ending December 31, 2012 were just over Rs3.2 billion, compared to a loss of over Rs2.8 billion in the same period in the previous year.
    No load shedding in my area for last 3 years…Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    @Parvez:

    I agree that they are doing their jobs. And I hope they continue to improve, because there is a long way to go. Recommend

  • MR Humair

    keep up the good work .Since a year I have hardly use generator or UPS .Rarely does electricity goes out in Clifton block 5 area .There were times during exams I had to plan my study schedule looking at the timing of electricity trips .During Summers it is very difficult to live without fans and lights .My friend with whom I used to study on Skype , in her area lights goes out after every three hours .It is very difficult for her since she has to plan every thing by looking at load shading time .And it was difficult for us to study together .There are also one major loss to citizen about unexpected load shading for instant what happened yesterday .There was high fluctuation of voltage which damages all expensive electricity appliances .Recommend

  • Zafar

    While KESC have improved their services in some areas, they have been following an unjust and discriminatory load shedding policy based on status and area of consumers. Each consumer is paying same tariff but some select areas have been exempted from load shedding whereas many others face 3 to 4 1/2 hour load shedding daily. KESC claim without publishing any status that this because of high losses and theft, however, its not consumers fault if they live in certain area. As long as consumer is paying bills on time, not involved in any electricity theft, and paying the same tariff structure as any other consumer, they should be treated fairly by KESC in the same manner.

    It is unjust and unfair to have some areas exempted from load shedding and keep penalizing others for the sins committed by others.

    Furthermore, on recent nationwide outage, KESC was the last one to restore services after 10+ hours. WAPDA, IESCO, LESCO all started restoration after 3 hrs. and gradually all major cities were restored in 5-6 hrs. This is where KESC need to invest in their infrastructure, by acquiring “black start” capabilities in case of such outages, rather then relying on WAPDA to supply power to start their generators.

    Due to this outage KESC consumers suffered more than 10-12 hours, however KESC didn’t give any relief in load shedding in the following days and routine load shedding has started next day. KESC should have courtesy to compensate for these 12 hours outage which consumers faced solely due to their infrastructure collapse and not because of any theft for which they are already penalizing their consumers.Recommend

  • Shaheen

    I had no idea that KESC had a twitter handle. Thanks. Recommend