Saturday, March 25, 2023
March 25, 2023

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Energy Adviser: Utility plans for winter outages


When winter storms roll through Clark County, they usually send branches and even whole trees down onto power lines and leave whole neighborhoods in the dark — until the response kicks into gear.

From customer reports to the line crews who respond, restoring service quickly after a storm requires a coordinated, systematic response.

Customer outage reports give Clark Public Utilities crews a tremendous advantage in service restoration because they give crews real insights to the location of the fault. Customers can easily make reports online with the mobile-friendly outage reporting tool at

“When customers report an outage, we can see where the report originates from and that lets us know the fault is likely somewhere in their neighborhood,” said Clark Public Utilities Transmission and Distribution Manager Mike Brown. “The more of those we get, the quicker we can find the problem and the sooner we can get the service restored.”

When a major storm strikes and thousands are without power, utility crews initially focus on the repairs that protect public safety, then move on to those that will benefit the greatest number of people.

So after a major event, crews will respond first to any potentially dangerous conditions, like fallen lines or damaged transformers. Once those are handled, crews repair transmission lines, because they deliver power to tens of thousands of customers. Transmission lines connect to substations. Those are next in line because they serve thousands of customers. Often, repairs at this level are all it takes to restore power to many customers.

Substations use feeder lines to distribute power to whole neighborhoods so they’re the next step on a crew’s inspection/repair list. From there, they move on to primary lines, which deliver electricity to up to 30 customers per line. Finally, they will correct outages that affect individual customers.

“Those final individual outages can be difficult to track down,” Brown said. “But customers can help the crews by leaving their porch lights on so they can see if every home’s service has been restored.”

The utility prepares for storms days in advance and the entire organization prepares to respond.

When a storm is approaching, warehouse employees stage tools and supplies at the utility’s Operations Center so line crews can quickly grab what they need and go. The utility also has agreements with contractor crews who will be ready to get to work at a moment’s notice when called.

Throughout the event, the communications department updates local media and uses social media platforms and the online outage map to inform customers. Customer service representatives are alerted to the event and prepare for increased customer contact.

How long and how often outages are depend on where you live. Homes in and around urban areas typically have fewer and shorter outages, because the grid is redundant. Homes in rural or forested areas may experience more frequent and longer outages.

Regardless of where you live, it’s a smart practice to have an emergency kit, nonperishable food and a gallon of water per person, per day, for three days on hand in case of a prolonged outage.

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