When The Lights go Out


Wayne A. English

When your lights go out the first thing you do is grumble. Admit it. Well, maybe you do more than grumble. When your grumbling is over, pick up the phone because if you don’t the power company may never know that your lights are out. Whether you buy power from a utility or other provider at a discount the procedure is the same: telephone the local utility. Your call will be taken by an automated answering system or by a customer service clerk. Information they need to know includes:

  • If anyone is in danger, where, and what the situation is - in this case call 911 first

  • The location of any wires down in the street or from your home to the street

  • The location of any tree damage

  • The location of broken or damaged poles

  • The location of automotive accidents - in this case call 911 first

  • If there was lightning in the area

  • Any dead animals you may see near a pole or in the road, because squirrels and birds can cause outages

  • A loud boom that you may have heard just as the lights went out. There is no danger to you. This is only the sound of a fuse blowing. Yes, the system has fuses. And when they blow they can be loud. Once blown, they must be replaced by a lineman.

Information like this is very important and will reduce the time required to get your lights back on. So, don’t keep it to yourself.

Here are the steps your utility goes through to restore an outage:

  • You report the outage.

  • The outage information is routed to an analyst who ...

  • Dispatches a lineman to the area.

  • If the damage is not severe, the lineman restores power.

  • If the damage is severe, the lineman asks for more people, trucks, equipment, and material like poles and wire needed to replace what has been damaged.

  • Additional personnel are routed to the area. After business hours people will be called in from home.

  • The work is completed and you lights restored.

Keep in mind that when you call the utility just minutes after an outage begins they will not know themselves what is wrong or how long it will take to repair. When storms, or other system wide problems, are involved getting restoration information to everyone that wants it takes time. When the information is available you can access it by calling back, or by contacting your company representative, if you have one. Not all outages are unplanned, there are times when you lights are turned off to assist in getting planned work done. When this is the case, you will be notified in advance. If you missed the notification, you will be informed of what is going on and when your lights will be restored when you call the utility. Should you have critical needs, because of medical equipment in the home, let’s say, notify the power company of this; do it today. And always have a back up plan as power can be lost for reasons beyond all human control. So, plan ahead by having phone numbers for ambulances, and other emergency services; a flash light; extra water; medication; or other critical things available. This includes gasoline in your car or truck as power can take out gas stations as well. Those gasoline pumps are electrically powered. For those times when you must abandon your home and go to a shelter you may need to know how to turn off you home’s water and drain the pipes to avoid major water damage should they freeze. Find out how to do this ahead of time.

So, who gets their lights on first? Normal day to day outages are dealt with as they happen. House fires, auto accidents and other threats to life are always dealt with immediately. During major storms human safety comes first. Then are hospitals, convalescent homes, public shelters, fire and police stations and their communications systems. Next are large outages that affect many customers. It only makes sense to chase an outage affecting 3,000 people before one affecting 10 people.

When you call information on wires down or other problem please have complete information, so that the location of the problem can be found. To call in something like, “There are wires down on Route 44,” is useless because Route 44 runs from Rhode Island to New York state. When you see a problem please take the time to record:

  • What town you are in

  • What street you are on

  • The nearest intersecting street or the street number

  • The nature of the problem

Good information makes a big difference in getting your lights back on. Poor information only slows things down.

Should you ever find wires down, broken poles or other dangerous conditions. Do not walk near them or drive over them. Never attempt to approach, touch, or move damaged equipment or wire. Leave it alone and get help. Wires on the ground can be electrically alive and can deliver a lethal shock. Just because they are on the ground does not mean that they are safe. This is a dangerous situation that can result in serious burns, injury, or death. Keep yourself and others away.