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Anatomy Of A Power Outage

01/25/2002
A Behind the Scenes Look at How Electricity is Restored

SAN FRANCISCO - Whether it's a winter storm that knocks out power to thousands of customers throughout the state, or a localized situation where a car hits a utility pole causing an outage to 20 homes, Pacific Gas and Electric Company responds rapidly to get the lights back on.

A behind the scenes look at what it takes to restore power quickly and safely shows the key to success is a combination of experienced utility workers utilizing the latest technology. The process begins when a customer calls Pacific Gas and Electric Company at 1-800-PGE-5000 to report an outage.

Once an outage has been identified, our state-of-the-art call center computers automatically give subsequent callers in the same area the status of the restoration efforts. The system can even generate callbacks to customers to give updates as the work progresses.

After a customer reports an outage, the company deploys an electric troubleman to the scene to determine the cause and decide how best to restore power.

The troubleman-the name is a throwback to an era when only men performed the work-can often do the necessary repair work on the spot by removing a broken tree limb from electric lines, re-setting fuses, closing switches or performing repairs to other equipment.

While no two power outages are identical and severe storms may impact response time, a typical scenario unfolds in the timeline below:

12:00 a.m.: A customer calls 1-800-743-5000 to report no power at her home.

12:05 a.m.: An outage notification is generated from one of PG&E's call centers and is automatically sent to the local dispatcher. The dispatcher immediately calls the Troubleman at home and he or she is awakened to begin the day.

12:30 a.m.: En route to the outage area, the Troubleman is in communication with the dispatcher to determine the exact location of the outage using maps and equipment numbers as a reference.

12:50 a.m.: The Troubleman arrives at the affected area and begins visually patrolling the electric circuit to find the problem. The cause is a downed line caused by a fallen tree. A total of 200 customers are without power.

1:00 a.m.: The Troubleman makes sure the downed electric line is safely de-energized (no electricity flowing through it) and requests an electric crew be dispatched to perform repairs.

1:05 a.m.: Headquarters updates the call center computers and contacts each member of an electric crew by home phone calls.

1:30 a.m.: The Troubleman restores electric service to as many customers as possible by re-routing electricity from other sources.

2:00 a.m.: Of the 200 customers originally without power, 160 have had their electricity restored be re-routing power from other sources. The remaining 40 customers who live closest to the downed wire cannot be immediately restored until repairs are made.

2:30 a.m.: The electric crew assembles at the local yard, gathers the appropriate materials and equipment and heads to the outage location. Once on scene, the crew begins to safely make the necessary repairs.

4:45 a.m.: The repairs to the tree-damaged wire are completed and the final 40 customers have their power turned back on. The electric crew advises headquarters of the completed repairs. Headquarters then updates the call center computers.

5:00 a.m.: The electric crew returns to the yard and prepares for a day of regular maintenance work.

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