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Sunday, December 16, 2007

It was a dark and stormy night...

For about five hundred homes and businesses in Glasgow, some of last night was a lot darker than usual. We had a power outage which started at 12:26 a.m. on Sunday morning which affected homes and businesses along Grandview Avenue, West Main Street, Cleveland Avenue, and the South Green Street area. While we had most of the customers back in service within an hour, a few customers closest to our Front Street Substation were off for about two hours.

Where power outages are concerned, this was really not a big one nor was it particularly long lasting. However, it did point up some interesting phenomena relative to our power system and what happens during a power interruption that you might be interested to know. This outage occurred because our power system was severely damaged on November 5 and many parts of the power network are still undergoing extensive repairs. In particular, this outage was caused by the failure of some temporary jumpers installed on our transmission line, near the intersection of Samson Street and Front Street. They failed during a wind gust and fell down across a 12,470 volt distribution circuit constructed at a lower position on the transmission poles. Since these jumpers were connected to the ground, a short circuit occurred and relays at Front Street Substation automatically opened the distribution circuit. If you were awake (and from the phone calls we got it is obvious a lot of folks were), you saw this as a blink followed immediately by your lights flashing back on and then blinking back off (this is the automatic sequence we have programmed into substation circuit breakers to open circuits when a fault occurs and then attempt to reclose the circuit several times in the hope that the fault clears). If you watched closely you then saw your lights stay off for five seconds and then flash back on followed by them going off again for one minute before flashing back on one more time. After the one minute pause the relays are programmed to give up on the process. It is at that point that we call the breaker “locked out” and human intervention is then required.

My house happened to be one of the five hundred affected by this outage. I was awakened by the emergency lighting coming on in my bedroom and I knew just what those flashes of light meant . . . a locked out circuit breaker. Now, at 1 a.m. we do not have folks at work. Instead, we are doing the same thing that you are doing, we are all asleep. So, it takes a few minutes for us to roll out of bed, find clothes in the dark, find our way out of the house, figure out how to get the garage door open without power, drive to the office, and figure out how to disarm our security system so we can get in the building. Since I live so close to the EPB office, I am often the first one there on these occasions and this was one of those times. I got there less than fifteen minutes after the breaker locked out and several more members of the EPB team were close behind.

When you walk in the EPB dispatch center at 1 a.m. to start evaluating a power outage you are immediately faced with a dilemma. There are always hundreds of folks calling in on the phone and, since we are very concerned with our customer calls, there is one force pulling on you to start answering the phone. But, answering phone calls that go along the lines of “What is wrong with my power/When will it be back on?/Can you get my house back on first?”, accomplish nothing toward actually figuring out what is going on and calling in the right folks and equipment to start repairs. So we are immediately torn between the phone and our computer and radio systems which we know will lead to fixing the problem. Much of this dilemma could be eliminated by our customers refraining from calling in unless they heard or saw something that might help us fix the problem. Just calling in to become the 300th person to tell us about an outage that we already knew about anyway is not productive for any of us. In general, if your lights go off at 1 a.m., and you note that all the street lights are also off as well as all your neighbors, you are just wasting time and resources when you call in. In addition, if you call in less than twenty minutes after the lights go off, you will be talking to someone who just woke up themselves and is struggling to put their pants on. The person answering the phone will not know what happened, they will not know where it happened and they will not know how long it will take to undo this unknown event. We are not psychic and we generally sleep at night just like you. We need a few minutes to get up, get dressed, get in, and get on our computers to see what they can tell us. I can testify that the first fifty calls I answered this morning all asked what the problem was, and it was our time spent on those phone calls that was keeping us from finding the answer to that problem!

As I said in my previous post on this very forum, these things are going to happen more often, especially in the days and weeks after a massive storm event wherein much of our system was damaged and only repaired temporarily. Repairs are not complete because of the other severe weather in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa taking all of our contractors away. They all packed up and left to help rescue the one million folks who were without power in that region. So, please, prepare for outages. When they occur, stay calm and know that my team is on the case and will have your power back on as soon as humanly possible. We will be the ones rushing to the EPB office while half-dressed. You can be the ones who just roll back over and go back to sleep!

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