Lessons From The Wind-driven Power Outage

First, a big thank you to Bountiful Power, as well as Logan, Murray, Provo, and Pine Valley Power crews for responding to the power situation in Bountiful.  I hope I haven’t forgotten any other crews that came out (if so, please let me know).  Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) also deserves some serious recognition for their efforts in the other affected areas, particularly, in Centerville.

The recent wind storm certainly left a good mess and plunged much of the South Davis County area into a good brown/blackout, depending on where you lived.  One thing that came to mind is the potential for extended blackouts in cities served by municipal power companies (compared to those served by Rocky Mountain Power).  The reason for this is a larger disaster will quickly and easily overwhelm local capacities.  I believe RMP can draw from a fairly large local pool of resources and crews to respond.  City power companies will only be able to draw from their local crew for initial response and those limited crews will soon need rest.  RMP can use its larger crew pool to allow for more consistent rest-work cycles to accommodated a sustained 24/7 response.  Cities are part of UAMPS (an association of city power companies) who pledge to assist one another (hence various city crews working in Bountiful about a day after the storm).  However, unlike RMP, crews will be disbursed and require longer travel times for initial response (such as Pine Valley crews making the drive from the extreme southern Utah) which also affects work/rest cycles etc.  For what it’s worth, cities also tend to charge significantly more than private power companies and use the charges for slush funds (also avoiding truth-in-taxation hearings).

The above may have been demonstrated in the recent storm (this is solely based on my observation – please pass on any empirical data confirming/denying).  RMP restored much of Centerville’s grid and it seemed a very large proportion of Centerville’s lights came on around 8PM despite having sustained the greatest storm force and damage.  RMP’s efforts really deserve recognition – I was shocked.  The majority of Bountiful’s lights didn’t come on for about another 3.5 hours (but having sustained less damage) and most of the city was predicted to remain blacked out for the night.  By the following day, I think about 90% of the Bountiful was restored (thanks to the exceptional efforts of the UAMPS crews).

The first lesson for me is, if you live in a city with it’s own power company, you may well have an extra reason to invest in a generator.  Be sure to determine how best to connect the generator to your home, especially if you want to power your gas furnace fan.  The fan uses little power but most (if any) furnaces do not include an extension plug…talk to a qualified electrician about this connection.  Also consider the amount of power you will want from your generator (more power = $$ for the generator and gas but also more comfort).  You may also get away with a lower powered generator but will have to plan carefully on how to cycle its use (plan time for the fridge, switch to the furnace/space heater…) but I’m not sure how feasible that really is.  A generator also carries lethal risks, if not used properly even when outdoors (exhaust can draw into an open window, crawlspace vent, laundry vent, etc.  Careful with any indoor exhaust/combustion sources and keep an operational carbon monoxide detector.

Next, local “Hams” (ameteur radio operators) are an ecellent information resources.  They were tied in with county operations centers and were called for assistance.  Neighborhood emergency plans should, definitely, integrate these folks for information and coordination.

The old adage of keeping your gas tank over half full still applies.  Lines for gasoline were seen and gas can also be used as a cooking fuel source with the right stove.

If you feel you need to drain water lines to avoid freezing them (assuming water is still running), store some water then drain your lines.  You will then also want to place some antifreeze in sinks/toilet/bath traps (the bend bellow the drain) to prevent the water therein from freezing (flush well when you restore your water).

Side observations: Hoard doughnuts – the grocery store had stocked shelves and deli items including fast food but the doughnut racks were wiped out.  Forget gold and silver, I know what I’ll be bartering!  Homeschoolers get no respect – the kids knew school was canceled and were totally bummed when informed that homeschool was not.

Exit ‘smart mouth’ question:  Did the Bountiful Emergency Essentials store stay open for business with their generator running?

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