Your lights go out, your fridge turns off, and your TV goes blank. You are sitting in pure silence. The first thought that crosses your mind is probably something along the lines of “what is going on?” followed closely by “when will my power come back?”.
The good news is that before your mind starts racing, our team is already well on track to fixing the problem. Between smart meters and our 24/7 dispatch crew, we are ready to spring into action almost immediately. To give you some insight into what the process looks like to restore your power as well as your routine, we asked a few of our lineworkers to shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes.
You receive a call that the power is out. What do your next 30-60 minutes look like?
“The second a breaker blows, our smart meters let us know that something is up. That message is delivered to us almost instantly. So, by the time someone at home is standing up to investigate what is going on and why their power turned off, our team is already in recovery mode,” says Darcy, Supervisor, Distribution Operations East.
To expand on that, Gord, Supervisor, Distribution Operations Central, explains: “A lot of information must be gathered and assessed so we can properly respond, including what personnel, equipment and material we might need as well as the potential for the assistance of outside services. When we arrive on scene, we have to make sure it’s safe not only for our crew, but also for the general public. Information must be relayed back to the System Office to describe the scope of the outage as accurately as possible. Work protection measures might need to be established to safely and properly perform repairs. A lot happens in a short time.”
So, we’ve gathered that Hydro Ottawa lineworkers jump into action instantly by not only diagnosing the problem, but by ensuring that they have the right tools to fix it, as well. Additionally, we are reminded that the safety of workers and the community is at the forefront of the process.
To dig a little deeper and find out more about what makes their profession so dynamic, we asked a few more questions.
What is the most difficult part of your role?
Gord: “Any job can present difficulties. It is our responsibility to identify and overcome these challenges to maintain a safe work environment and a safe working space for us and the communities we restore. Two examples of this would be when we’re working in extreme weather conditions or when there’s a lot of heavy traffic.”
Darcy: “I’d say that one of the most difficult parts of our job is when you’re working through the night to fix an outage and you hit that 16 hour mark. Due to regulations, a worker cannot continue to stay outside of that time frame. It’s hard because you want to keep working and keep bringing power back to more people.”
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
Gord: “The most rewarding thing after many years in the job, is possessing the knowledge and skills to safely face the challenges that are a daily part of our trade, and being able to pass these on to our apprentices. Keeping our team and our communities safe is always top of mind for us.”
Corey, a Powerline Technician, responded that after restoring power to a particularly complex outage: “It’s just such a rewarding feeling when the lights come back on. People sometimes come out to see what’s going on outside their homes. We appreciate the interest so long as they stay a safe distance away and outside the work area. Looking back, people have been so happy they’ve clapped. One time, someone even came to offer us cookies. It’s the best feeling.”
What has been the most memorable outage (or other event) so far in your career and why?
Gord: “I have been involved in many interesting situations over the years, both planned and unplanned. Four events that, because of their magnitude, that are the most memorable for me are: 1) the 2018 tornadoes 2) the 2003 Northeast blackout 3) the ice storm of 1998 and 4) the ice storm of 1986. These were big events that rocked communities. Coming together to safely restore power to people’s homes was something that I will never forget.”
Corey: “The tornado that came through town in 2018 was the most memorable for me. Seeing the community come together and support one another was really amazing to see..”
What was so memorable about these events, you may ask? Darcy explained that it was the long hours that made them a team. He says that the biggest takeaway was the extra safety precautions and teamwork that he witnessed. “Safety was number one and everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing - and were proud of their work and contributions. It’s always worth it when you restore that power.”
Here’s a quick recap of our process when the power goes out: after being alerted of an outage, we dispatch our crews to the area and notify customers by updating the information on our website via the Outage Centre. For larger outages, our Twitter account is where you’ll find the information posted as we know it, oftentimes along with photos, video, and even livestreams. We don’t want to keep you in the dark when you’re already in the dark.
Once on site, crews investigate the cause, which can range from a loss of supply from the provincial electricity or a downed power line resulting from a vehicle accident, to weather events, equipment issues and more. Then, they estimate how long it will take to fix, which can be more difficult when the cause isn’t immediately evident or the outage is widespread.
During major interruptions, we prioritize repairs that pose serious safety hazards, and restoring power to critical infrastructure such as emergency services, hospitals, schools and larger neighbourhoods or communities of customers first. We then systematically move on to repair lines that are serving the largest number of customers and proceed until we are repairing and restoring individual customers in our community.
So, the next time that your power goes out, don’t panic. You can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Darcy, Gord, Corey, and the rest of the Hydro Ottawa team are working hard to connect you with power again.