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Imagine that a stray bolt of lightning connects a menacing cloud with a power pole about a mile east of your home. Your lights flicker briefly before going out. Things become eerily quiet as all your home’s devices equipped with motors and fans stop providing their constant symphony of background noise.

Locating the issue

You’re experiencing a power outage, so you reach for your phone and call your electric co-op. Good move. Sometimes, member-consumers don’t call because they assume their neighbors will. However, the more members who do make the call, the more quickly the co-op will be able to pinpoint the outage location.

Back at the office, the co-op’s grid system operator noticed the sudden pause at the moment 300 million volts of lightning danced around a transformer, and they’re able to triangulate the location of the outage. The system estimates just over 500 members are in the dark as a line crew tosses their dinner aside and steers their trucks in that direction.

Thirty minutes later, the lineworkers slowly drive along a stretch of road, keeping one eye on traffic while inspecting every pole, wire and transformer. In another 8 minutes, they stop and step out for a closer look. The mystery is solved with one glance at the burn mark across the surface of the transformer. Readying the truck and ensuring it’s safe, they move closer to the line.

Deliberate work ensures safety

If you watch the lineworkers, you might mistakenly assume they’re not very motivated. After all, you’re dealing with a power outage, you want it to end as soon as possible, and it looks like they’re simply taking their sweet time while you’re missing the ballgame. But there’s a good reason the lineworkers aren’t rushing or running around.

Those power lines carry high-voltage electricity. It’s safe when all elements of the system are in good working order, but it’s potentially deadly when that’s not the case. Lineworkers approach what they do deliberately, efficiently – and, most of all, safely. Every action they take is carefully planned so they can spot potential hazards. When performing tasks, they follow standard procedures and safety requirements to ensure the repair is effective and sound. Working that way may take a little extra time, but it means they’ll make it home safely at the end of the day (or night).

Power is restored

Less than an hour after finding the cause of the outage, the lineworkers load their tools and gear back onto the trucks. This time, the problem was easy to spot, the repair was fairly straightforward, and the weather cooperated.

Driving back to the co-op, the lineworkers watch the passing homes and smile because the warm glow coming from the windows means the power’s back on again. A couple of members in their yard wave as the trucks pass by. They may not know why the electricity went off and what was involved in bringing it back, but thanks to the lineworkers, life is back to normal.

Preparing for the unknown

Lightning streaks across the world’s skies roughly 8 million times every day, and power poles, lines and other infrastructure provide attractive targets for helping lightning connect with the ground. But outages can occur from a variety of causes, including fallen trees, vehicle crashes and even curious critters, like snakes and squirrels.

And no two outages are exactly alike. The next one could be in severe weather or a remote segment far off the main road. It could involve a fallen tree that needs to be cut with chainsaws or a broken utility pole that needs to be replaced. The situation doesn’t matter because lineworkers will always get to the location and fix the problem as quickly as safety allows.

This is why your electric co-op invests in the right technologies and equipment designed to protect the power grid and prevent outages from plunging your home into darkness. And it’s also why the lineworkers, who put themselves at risk to return your life to normal, are some of our favorite people.

If a power outage occurs:
  • Call your local electric cooperative to report your outage – even if you think a neighbor has already called it in. The more calls received, the easier it is to identify the issue and determine the extent of the outage.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and poles. Always assume all power lines are energized and dangerous unless told otherwise by an authority.
  • Turn off the stove, oven and other appliances (except refrigerators and freezers with food) to prevent heavy startup loads that could cause secondary blackouts when power is restored.
  • Unplug sensitive electronic equipment, such as computers, 
TVs and other home entertainment equipment, to avoid damage to them when power is restored.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to prevent food from spoiling.
  • Leave a light turned on so you’ll know when the power is restored.
  • Use flashlights during outages instead of candles to avoid fire risks.

Scott Flood writes for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing nearly 900 electric co-ops.

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