Tuesday, May 18, 2021
May 18, 2021

Linkedin Pinterest

Energy Adviser: Safety first during outages


Clark Public Utilities works hard to ensure its electrical grid is robust and reliable across the county, but regardless of how many hours or resources the utility invests in its network, the occasional power outage is bound to happen.

Customer reports are crucial in helping crews determine the cause and location of outages so repairs can be made quickly. If you experience one in your neighborhood, call the utility’s automated outage reporting line at 360-992-8000 or use the mobile-friendly online outage reporting tool on ClarkPublicUtilities.com.

When an outage occurs, crews prioritize restoration by putting public safety first and the maximum benefit to customers second.

“During an event, our main concern is the hazardous situations that threaten public safety — even if larger areas are without power, we want to get to those first,” said Clark Public Utilities Transmission and Distribution Manager Mike Brown. “When any dangerous situations are secured safely, we shift our attention to restoring service to the maximum number of customers with each repair.”

That means large infrastructure like transmission lines or substations get first priority because getting them back online can benefit tens of thousands of customers. From there the utility moves to smaller infrastructure: the feeder lines, primary lines and, finally, outages that affect individual customers.

How quickly your power will be restored after an outage depends on the severity and extent of the damage that caused it.

“For example, in several locations the Labor Day windstorm knocked multiple trees into long sections of line and caused damage in multiple places,” Brown said. “While nothing major was damaged, crews had to first do a significant amount of cleanup, sometimes on different stretches of the same line, before they could restore power.”

Utility staff watches the weather forecast carefully for storms so crews can be ready to go before a major event.

Typically, lightning storms, which can damage buried power lines, are the biggest threats in the summer. In the winter, ice storms, dense snows and strong winds can knock limbs off trees and onto overhead lines.

Heavy wind is a threat year-round because of the widespread damage it can cause, especially in forested areas, and wind during the dry season also carries the risk of fire.

Due to the extreme fire danger of the recent storm, utilities in Oregon and California preemptively cut power in high-risk areas. Notably, PG&E cut power to 172,000 customers in Central California to mitigate the risks

That decision is a matter of timing, wind and weather conditions. Clark Public Utilities would cut power immediately if it was the right thing to do to protect public safety. But during this recent storm, preemptive power outages weren’t necessary. However, the utility worked closely with local fire departments and strategically placed fire and water tanker trailers in high-risk locations.

The utility has a team of first responders who are prepared to respond to outages and safety issues every single day of the year. During a large outage the utility is prepared to call in as many of its workers and contract crews as are needed to get power restored. It also has mutual aid agreements in place with utilities from as far away as California, who will send workers to our service area.

“So far, we’ve never had to call them, but we regularly do send employees to help other utilities when they need it,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of collaboration in this industry because it’s such a specialized field.”

During an outage, as crews are out on the front lines getting the lights back on, the utility’s communications and customer service departments work to keep customers updated in person, online and in the news as the situation unfolds.

Although most outages are short lived, sometimes they can last for days. It’s important to keep an emergency kit that includes food, water, flashlights, medications, and other essentials stocked and available.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.