When the power goes out in a big storm, the calls come in to companies like Penelec, because people depend on electricity 24/7.
But the buzz begins at the power companies long before the lights go out.
At Penelec's parent company, First Energy, two full-time meterologists have been tracking Hurricane Sandy since early last week, so the company can shift resources quickly to where they're needed, restoring power as soon as possible, according to spokesman Scott Surgeoner.
Sandy will introduce herself this morning around dawn and impose her increasingly formidable winds and rain through the day, maxing out toward midnight with gusts that could reach 65 mph and three to five inches of rain, according to Kevin Fitzgerald, meteorologist with the State College office of the National Weather Service.
The high winds, ground softened by rain and the drag of leaves still on the trees may lead to toppling of trees onto lines, according to Surgeoner and Fitzgerald.
Already, Penelec has sent crews from areas that won't suffer from the storm to areas that will, according to Surgeoner.
Workers have gone from Ohio to central and eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Surgeoner said.The company has also sought help from other power companies and has hired contractors, some of whom have arrived, some of whom are en route, Surgeoner said.
Unfortunately, the big footprint of the storm means that some other power companies that could offer help cannot - yet - because they're dealing with their own problems, Surgeoner said.
They'll come to help when they've finished in their areas, however - as workers from Florida have already done, he said.
This storm could be the biggest that First Energy has had to deal with, Surgeoner said.
"Though it's a bit early to call that," he said.
It's not just the wind and the rain and the leaves on the trees, but the extent of the storm, heavy wet snow predicted in the higher mountains and the additional weight of the rain and the snow on the leaves, he said.
It's not the trees that pull down lines, but branches that touch two lines at once, creating a short-circuit, because the trees - being largely water, conduct electricity, Surgeoner said.
And it's not just branches that weigh down lines, but those same branches - after workers lift the lines back above them to restore power - that can spring back up when the snow melts and the wet leaves fall off, causing problems all over again, Surgeoner said.
Randy Hatch has been preparing for years for storms such as Sandy may turn out to be.
Hatch has lived since 1981 along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River in Lind's Crossing, one of the most locally famous flood-prone areas.
Many years ago, he tried to protect his house by surrounding it to the level of the first floor windowsills with concrete blocks and earth.
That worked until 1996, when the river rose above the flood wall and poured into the first floor.
So Hatch demolished the house, leaving the flood wall shell, filled it with earth, capped it, extended the foundation another four feet and built a new house.
That's what he lives in now, and he's not worried about Sandy, as the maximum level of water in his part of the valley is below the level of his driveway, and above the level of a 100-year flood.
So he can enjoy his magnificent view of the river - a little low, with a riffle upstream a few hundred feet - from his second-story deck.
The only immediate preparations necessary were to pick up a few items in his yard, so they don't float away, if the river rises about its banks.
It may not, he believes.
"You live in a flood zone, it's not big deal," he said. "You keep your eye on the river, keep your eye on the Weather Channel."
Over on Kentucky Avenue in Altoona, behind Logan Valley Mall, within the right angle formed by Mill Run and a tributary that comes down from Ruskin Drive, Dorothy Bearer was almost as philosophical.
She elected not to take a flood-mitigation buyout about a dozen years ago, because the appraised value of $65,000 wouldn't have gotten her much, and because she liked her neighborhood.
She actually liked it even better when the authorities razed all but one neighboring house, giving her far more privacy.
Except for times like these, when floods threaten.
She's done her best to mitigate those worries, placing no carpet in the basement, setting her washer, dryer and freezer on blocks.
She bought insurance, then dropped it, when the premium and deductible rose after 1996, then bought it again in January for $600 a year, with a $1,000 deductible.
That helps her accept what may be coming today.
She has asked the city to add fill to an area of her yard to create a dike that she believes would protect her, but hasn't gotten a response.
She thinks city officials figure that she doesn't deserve the help, because she spurned the buyout.
So she'll keep an eye on the creeks, pull the cover on her basement drain to let the water run in faster and go to her son's house in Duncansville tonight, if the situation warrants.
Everyone should prepare for the power outages that may come, according to Dan Boyles, Blair County emergency management director.
He recommends clearing porches, sealing basement entries, stocking paper and plastic kitchenware, buying backup batteries for flashlights, ensuring you have enough of your important medications, gassing up the car, getting cash in case ATMs don't work and protecting wood or coal piles from flood damage.
"It's these little wee things we overlook," Boyles said.
The city will open its Emergency Operations Center at Council Chambers on Washington Avenue if there are a large number of residents without power for an extended period or if 75 percent of resources in one area - for example, road crews - are deployed, said Tim Hileman, the city's emergency management coordinator. The center would enable city officials to get the necessary additional help, he said. A trigger could occur quickly, and given the weather forecast, likely will by the end of today, he predicted.
The Red Cross will be prepared to open a shelter if necessary, possibly in a school building, as the agency has an agreement with the Altoona Area School District, Hileman said.
Boyles will be discussing another potential location that could be used to serve the whole county, if school is in session.
Such a site wouldn't need to handle more than 100 people, as few Blair County residents seek refuge in shelters, he said.
Most of those seeking refuge would be those with special medical needs, predicted Hileman and Boyles.
Some schools in the region were planning to close today, according to TV station websites.
As of Sunday evening, however, Tyrone Area School District was not among them - unless something changed radically before 5 a.m. today, according to Superintendent Bill Miller. They were also planning to evaluate this morning, in case it proves necessary to send students home early.
"I've been on the phone to various people," Miller said.
Hatch was cheerful as he sent a reporter on his way, inviting the reporter to stop back after the storm.
"It was scary the first time," he said of his early experience with the property by the river. But once the preparations have been made, "there's not much you can do about it," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.