A glimpse behind the scenes of power restoration
“How long is it going to take?“ Those are familiar words to all who work in the electric industry. It’s a phrase I’ve been asked thousands of times in my career. I’ve been asked by phone, through car windows, from front porches, sidewalks, bicycles, gas pumps, diners. I’m pretty sure I’ve even been asked by children in car seats. It’s the first thing people think when the lights go out. It doesn’t take long sitting in the dark to realize how dependent we are on electricity. How much it makes our lives better and easier.
As a lineworker, it’s always a good feeling to help people get those lights back on. I can remember times when I’ve been on storm or extended outages re-energizing neighborhoods and heard people in their homes cheering as their lights came on for the first time in days. No matter how tired I am or how long I’ve been working, that feeling will always make it worthwhile.
But what does it take to get those lights back on? Why does it sometimes take so long? Most people will never get to experience or witness the work that goes into ending outages. Hopefully after reading this, you will have a better understanding of the process and the work that OEC line crews are doing to restore your power.
Electricity travels a long way before it reaches your home. It is first generated at a power plant. From there, the power travels down high voltage transmission lines to substations.
Local substations step down the voltage before the electricity reaches your home.
What I just described is hundreds of miles of line and thousands of poles. That’s a lot of exposure for something to happen and cause an outage.
Now that the lights have blinked, your breaker has opened, and the power is off. So what happens?
The Outage Begins:
6:35 p.m.: Your local lineworker gets a phone call.
When I answer the phone, I’m told that we have an outage. My first question is, “Is this an individual or a line outage?“ A line outage will be a large section of line and several people. An individual will be just a single transformer or pole. If it’s a line outage my next question is, “What is the nearest breaker or fuse that incorporates all of the known outages?” That’s why it is important to report your outage. We will head towards the most upstream reported outage and check the breaker or fuse closest to it.
7 p.m. The drive
An after-hours outage requires your lineworker to respond from home. Depending on where the outage is, the drive alone can sometimes take an hour.
7:45 p.m. Arrival and line inspection
I often see people outside when their power is off, sitting on their porch or working in the yard. Sometimes I drive by several times. I often wonder what they are thinking when they see me driving by multiple times. Do they think I’m just driving around? Do they wonder why I’m not getting their power back on? But that’s exactly what I’m doing. The first time you see me I’m most likely driving to the breaker. I need to go to the breaker to verify that it’s open. The second time you see me drive by I’m visually checking the line for what may have caused the outage. Checking the line can take some time. It’s one of the more time-consuming steps we take, but also one of the most important parts of restoring an outage. We can’t just simply flip a switch and restore the power. That can be dangerous for many reasons. The outage could be a line down in someone’s yard, or it could have been caused by equipment failure. Re-energizing the line under those two examples would be very dangerous to the public and could cause more damage and just extend the outage longer. So, it’s very important to visually check the line before trying the breaker. Several things can cause an outage. A few examples of things I’m looking for are fallen trees, tree limbs, old line repairs that have failed, car accidents, lightning, animals and equipment failure.
Another factor that can add time to inspecting the line is terrain. We try to put poles along the road, but that can’t always be accomplished. Electric co-op lines go where they are needed, and that might be in extremely remote places. While poles and lines that run along the road can be inspected and repaired faster, terrain and direction of the line sometimes require us to run the line offroad. If it’s not along the road, the line must be checked on foot. If it’s dark that can make this job even more difficult and time consuming regardless of where it’s located.
While electrical linemen are beginning this process, fiber mangers and personnel are back at the co-op, actively assessing the situation caused by the storm. Their primary goal is to determine the necessary materials and resources required to address the outage effectively.
The Process of Repairs:
8:30 p.m. Outage cause located, but first safety.
Once we find the cause of the outage, there are safety steps that must be taken before we can start the work. These safety procedures add time, but they are vital. It’s how we ensure lineworkers are protected and everyone goes home to their families. The most important thing we have to do is isolate and ground the line. This is an important step for many reasons. One reason is to protect from back feed. Lineworkers always try to be aware of their surroundings. An important thing to listen for and to be aware of are home generators. The transformer on your pole that drops the voltage down can also work in reverse. Your home generator, if installed wrong, could back feed through your transformer and put primary voltage back on the line. To protect lineworkers, we install grounds as close to the work location as we can on both sides of the work. These grounds connect the neutral wire to all primary wires making them all the same ‘grounded potential’ and safe to work on. The final safety step is the briefing. During the safety briefing, the job plan is discussed and explained, hazards are identified, and everyone is made aware of the grounds, their location and the location of the breaker.
9 p.m. All safety procedures are in place. We can begin the work.
Let’s say for this outage it was a tree. A 50-foot-tall oak tree fell through the line. It’s off the road, but we got lucky—it broke a crossarm, but the pole is good. The wire isn’t broken either but is currently under the oak tree. We’ve got to chop the tree and free the wire. This will take some time. Anyone who has cut up a downed tree will understand the danger. You have to be careful and pay attention to the tree and how it’s sitting on the ground. Downed trees can shift, and roll while being cut. And here you also have power lines under tension, pinned down by the tree adding an extra layer of danger. Special care and awareness must be used to remove this tree. Sometimes the power lines must be tied down, so that they can be let up in a more controlled manner once the tree is cut. While we work to clear the tree from the line, new material is on the way. We are going to need a crossarm, crossarm braces, new insulators, bolts and ties to tie in the wire.
By this time, the dedicated fiber line technicians responsible for resolving the fiber outage begin gathering the required materials at the yard. They are preparing to head towards the scene of the outage, fully equipped and ready to restore services.
10:30 p.m. The tree has been cleared and the material has arrived.
As I mentioned, the pole is off the road, so that means we can’t get a bucket truck to it. We will have to climb the pole. One of our lineworkers will put on his belt and hooks and climb to the top of the pole. He’ll bring all the tools he’ll need with him. One thing he will take with him is a handline. It’s a rope in a pulley that’s long enough to go from the top of the pole to the ground in a loop. This will be used to lift material and other objects to the lineworker that were too heavy or awkward to take up in his belt. Once he gets to the top of the pole, he will get to work. He’ll start by removing all the broken material. He’ll also inspect the top of the pole for damage we couldn’t see from the ground. Once he has it cleaned up, we will start sending up material on the handline. He should have taken the crossarm bolt with him when he climbed and installed that in the pole. The lineworker on the ground should have already put everything on the crossarm. Next, the lineworker on the ground will tie the crossarm onto the handline in a way that will allow the lineworker on the pole to just guide the arm onto the bolt as it’s being lifted up. Once the new crossarm is on the pole and all the bolts are tightened the wire will be lifted up, also with the handline, and placed on the arm. The wire ties will be sent up, again on the handline, and the lineworker will tie in the wire. After completing all the work in the air, the lineworker will send down the handline and climb down. Once down, he’ll remove his belt and hooks and pack them away. The lineworker on the ground will now be “making up the handline“ which means he is getting it ready to store until it’s needed again. We’ll all carry the tools that we used back to the truck and get them packed away. Lastly, we will remove our grounds.
11:45 p.m. Repairs complete
Now if you still happen to be on your porch, you will see me drive by a third time. This is good news because you are about to get your power restored. I’m heading for the breaker. Once I get to the breaker, I’ll call dispatch and get clearance to re-energize. I’ll let them know who is with me and if they are in the clear. They will check to make sure no one else is working on the line and then give me clearance to try the breaker. At this time, I will close the breaker and your power will be restored. 2001400200
Once the majority of the electrical work has finsihed, the fiber team is poised to start their work. Fiber techs must wait until electrical repairs are completed to ensure safety and coordination. During this time, managers complete a thorough job briefing, emphasizing the importance of safety procedures for all team members.
12:45 a.m. Power restored, Fiber Internet is on the way
Keep in mind this is just one scenario; not every outage is the same. Each outage varies in time for restoration. This example outage took around five and a half hours to restore. If the tree had broken a pole, it would have been even longer.
As your power flicks on, the fiber techs hang fiber cable in place. This critical step is essential for reconnecting the fiber network and restoring communication services in the affected area.
2:30 a.m. the splicing process begins
The meticulous splicing process is underway. This intricate procedure involves carefully joining individual fiber strands together. It demands precision and attention to detail as each connection is executed.
This moment signifies the turning point for the community members who have been patiently waiting for the restoration of their electrical and fiber services. They can now look forward to going back online and enjoying the benefits of these vital utilities.
3:30 a.m. Lineworkers and fiber technicians return home, safe and sound.
We work for you, our neighbors, not just as electrical linemen but also as fiber technicians who ensure that your electric and internet services are up and running smoothly.
We’ve become so dependent on electricity and high-speed internet that every outage, whether it is a short outage or an extended one, can be stressful for those without power or internet connectivity. The longer outages last, the more stressful and irritating it can become, especially when you rely on the internet for work, education or communication. I hope that I’ve provided a better understanding of the restoration process so you have an idea of what’s happening while you wait. Just know that your co-op line and fiber crews are doing their best to get the lights and internet back on as quickly and safely as possible.
OEC and its employees are not only members of your community but also dedicated individuals who understand the importance of uninterrupted power and internet services. We live in the same neighborhoods, shop at the same stores, and send our kids to the same schools. If your lights are off or your internet is down, there is a good chance ours are affected too.
We will always be committed to serving our members and communities by providing safe and reliable electricity and internet connectivity—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
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