Here's how we find out about power outages and the steps we take to get the power back on as soon as possible.
1. We're alerted about a power outage
There are two ways we find out about a power outage at Hydro Ottawa. First, we rely on technology. Our Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition computer system or SCADA, is in constant communication with monitoring and control devices installed throughout the city within the power distribution network and in our substations. SCADA will instantaneously alert our Control Room Operators when the power goes out or when other problems occur with the electricity system.
However, SCADA's remote monitoring and control devices are engineered to oversee and protect larger sections of the power grid. For this reason we also rely on our customers to report power outages to help us pinpoint smaller outages and their causes such as those affecting several homes and businesses. We have a dedicated phone line (613-738-0188) for this purpose. When a customer calls us from a phone number that is recognized by our automated phone system (because it is associated with their Hydro Ottawa account), the system automatically matches it with their service address and logs the outage immediately in an Outage Management System working in concert with the SCADA system. Customers can also leave more information about what happened, such as “A car hit a pole on my street.” This information is very helpful in pinpointing the cause of the outage and speeding up the restoration process.
As more calls come in, the Outage Management System predicts the exact location where power has been interrupted (usually at a fuse or some other protective device). This is not the location of the problem (tree on the line, car accident, etc.) but helps to identify the general area and especially how many customers on which specific streets are affected.
2. We dispatch our repair crews
Once we know where an outage has occurred, the Outage Management System also looks for the nearest repair crew with the appropriate equipment and dispatches them to the area. These field crews and our control room staff are in constant radio contact, sharing information, making sure the site of the outage is safe, and coordinating their activities to restore power.
Upon arrival at the site of the outage, our repair crews first ensure that the area is safe. Then if the cause is not known, their second job is to find out the exact cause of the outage. In addition to bad weather, there are a number of things that can cause the power to go out, such as a vehicle accident, an underground cable fault or a tree falling on a line or pole. Bad weather and other challenging conditions such as going from back yard to back yard in the dark to find the source of the problem can add to the restoration time. This is where the extra information provided by customers becomes extremely valuable.
3. We notify people about the outage
At the same time we dispatch our repair crews, we let our customers, media outlets and City of Ottawa Councillors know about the power outage in a number of ways:
- We post a message to our Power Outage Line (613-738-0188), with details about current outages as they become available, such as where the outage happened, the number of customers affected, the status of our repair crews and the estimated time it will take to restore power.
- We update our Outage Web Map with outages affecting ten or more customers within 200 metres of each other. Customers can quickly see the area of the outage and the number of customers affected. They can even zoom in to see the specific streets impacted by the outage.
- We use Twitter (@hydroottawa) to share outage information during business hours and major power outages.
4. We are focussed on restoring power quickly
Once we have investigated the extent of the damage, we estimate how long it will take to restore power. We strive to be as accurate as possible with our estimates, which is difficult especially when we can’t pinpoint the cause. If we’re too optimistic, customers understandably get impatient when it takes longer. On the other hand, estimating the restoration time that is too long and restoring power much sooner can be equally disruptive.
When power outages are widespread because of a storm, providing estimates is even more difficult. In these major events when dealing with hundreds of outages and thousands of calls, we prioritize the repairs; doing first those that will get the power back up for larger groups of customers and then moving on to repair individual lines serving individual customers. At times it may appear that we are ignoring seemingly simple repairs (especially after a customer has called to inform us of the cause) but once we know about the outage, it is logged by the Outage Management System and repaired in priority sequence.
At all times, our number one priority is to ensure the safety of the public and our employees.
Here's a handy brochure about the supplies you should have on hand in case the power goes out for an extended period of time.
5. We keep records to help prevent future power outages
Every time the power goes out, we keep a record of when and why it happened, how we resolved the outage and how long it took us to make the repairs. This information is used to identify trends for planning and prioritizing upgrades to our electricity infrastructure. It also informs our maintenance and tree trimming programs. This video, called Investing for Tomorrow, provides a good overview of our future plans.