Social Media lights up during Trinidad and Tobago blackout

Bradley Wint
By: - 29th Mar 2013
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At 12:41 AM local time, a power outage occurred across Trinidad and Tobago, putting the country into darkness for at least 7 hours.

While many were saying their good nights before going to bed, or getting ready for the long Easter weekend, residents across the nation started to slowly lose power around 12:41 AM local time. Most electronics has simply shut off but house and security florescent lights flickered for at least 1-2 minutes after.

The entire nation stood in darkness, but the general public had not known the seriousness of the situation just yet.

Given the time of night, many just assumed that it was an occasional outage in their area and prepared for the onslaught of mosquitoes and ‘island heat’ as it’s commonly referred to these days. While some lost mobile data access, many hit social media networks to comment about the loss of power. Within minutes, many realized the gravity of the situation when they saw their friends from various parts of the island also highlighting their loss of electricity in the respective areas.

It was clear that there was a major problem at PowerGen, the nation’s electricity provider, and rumors had started circulation just half hour after the blackout.

As a result of the blackout, water service was also affected and mobile networks faltered slightly in some areas. bmobile was the first retweet content.

Digicel also posted a status on their page some time in the early morning.


Most of the coverage eventually came via the TV6 Twitter page as they kept followers informed about the situation via retweets from citizens across the country. They also started using the hashtag (#massiveblackout), allowing many to associate their tweets with the situation.

News started trickling in shortly after about a supply shortage of natural gas to the power station, causing its generators to force shut down.

It was confirmed that a problem did occur at the Phoenix Park Gas Processors Limited in Pt Lisas, the plant responsible for the supply of refined natural gas to PowerGen. The Minister of Energy eventually issued a statement today detailing what went wrong:

“At 12:25 am on March 29 2013, the Phoenix Park Gas Processors Limited (PPGPL) plant at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate tripped as a result of a malfunction of their emergency shutdown system. This impacted the delivery of natural gas to the national gas grid. This also impacted the delivery of natural gas to the PowerGen Point Lisas power station which consequently resulted in blackouts across the country.

“Thereafter, systems and contingencies were put in place by Government to restore power in the shortest possible time as well as to ensure the safety and security of all citizens.

“On advice that the restarting of the PowerGen Penal facility was critical for restoring power throughout the country, the Prime Minister and Minister of Energy visited same in order to oversee the operations.

“The Prime Minister and Minister of Energy were assured by the management and staff that every effort was being taken to restore operations at the facility. The Prime Minister and Minister of Energy were kept updated by all relevant agencies including the NGC, PowerGen, TGU and TTEC throughout the night as to the status of efforts to restore the nation’s electricity supply.

“By the early hours of March 29 power had already been restored in some areas and work was apace to ensure same throughout the nation.

“The Prime Minister has requested that the Minister of Energy present a report on this incident with a focus on recommendations to ensure the future energy/ electricity security of the country. The Prime Minister thanks all those dedicated officers and citizens who ensured the safety and security of the nation as well as those directly involved in returning the nation’s supply of electricity.”

Below is a photo of the actual plant.

The situation did bring up the efficiency of the 3rd party service, given the critical role Phoenix Park Gas plays in electricity generation.

What’s commendable about the entire situation is that it proved once again that social media played a significant role in keeping many up to date with what was happening. In a developing nation where many are connected to the Internet via a cellphone, they maximized different social media networks to help build a picture of what really happened long before the majority of news outlets started covering the story. Also, TV6 played a great role in using social media as a form of keeping followers updated on the latest events.

Sadly, the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC), the public utility responsible for the distribution of electricity, did not have any social presence to let users know what had happened. Given that their telephone support system would have been jammed by thousands of trouble report phone calls, having some form of social presence would have definitely helped alleviate the situation.

Luckily the blackout occurred at night when there wasn’t much demand for electricity, but if it had happened during the day, we assume there might have been more chaos such as highway congestion and public transportation problems, as well as lost business.

Here are some of the photos posted during the blackout.

While many areas saw electricity being restored in their areas between 7-11AM, they had reached 100% output capacity until around 1PM local time and stated that there could be minor outages during the stabilization stages. News of the outage eventually went global after an Associated Press post went live across its feeder network closed to 11AM EST.

With any major event, there are bound to be follow up memes. This was our favourite. The original photo was depicts Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar overseeing the operations during the power restoration phase.


[Cover Photo: jamingray/Flickr]

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