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Recent Power Outage Details & Utilities Follow-up Actions Planned

Learn about the recent power outages, what were the causes, and what Utilities has planned moving forward to improve public notifications and real-time alerts

Since the beginning of the calendar year, there have been 19 unplanned power outages in Palo Alto, with eight considered major based on total customer impact (500 customers or greater). Of the eight major power outages, four have occurred over the last week. The following blog provides details on the recent power outages, answers community questions, and shares details on ways the Utilities Department is working to restore community confidence through increased power outage communications.

Recent Outage Details

Photo from the recent September 11 Utility Pole Repair

Last week, four major outages occurred, impacting customers in various parts of Palo Alto. Electrical operations crews worked quickly to understand the cause, repair the issue, and restore power to minimize power disruptions.

Here is a snapshot of the four outages, including initial customer impact, and cause:

September 5: 4,462 customers were impacted due to a bad transformer and cable, likely as a result of the extreme and dangerous heat wave.

September 6: Approximately 1700 customers were impacted from about 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. as a result of Northern California Power Agency instructing the City of Palo Alto Utilities to begin implementing load shedding/rolling blackouts, a directive that was given shortly after the issuance of a high-severity Energy Emergency Alert from California Independent System Operator (CAISO). For the full community update on this, go here.

September 7: 4,662 customers lost power due to a squirrel coming in contact with two 12,000 volt overhead power lines causing the underground cable to fail.

September 11: 3,376 customers lost power due to a car hitting a utility pole at the 101 Freeway Embarcadero offramp.

Previous outages resulted from incidents such as a bird strike, mylar balloon, and fallen tree which occurred on August 4, 2022, or equipment failure such as an underground fault, which occurred on August 22, 2022.

Palo Alto Utilities follows California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) guidelines for inspections and equipment replacement. Specifically, all Utilities in California must patrol (walk, drive, or fly by for a visual inspection) their systems once a year (in urban areas and high fire threat areas). In addition, City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) conducts detailed inspections every 3–5 years, depending on the type of equipment (overhead vs. underground). CPAU records specify conditions of inspected equipment, any problems found, and a scheduled date for corrective action. Since July 1, 1998, utilities are required to submit an annual report summarizing completed and missed inspections, equipment conditions observed, and repairs made. CPAU also conducts intrusive inspections of power poles (including taking samples for analysis) every 10 years (if not previously inspected) or every 20 years. In addition, the City inspects its electrical lines and any tree-related conflicts on a regular basis.

Revisions to Utilities Communications Protocols

The last several outages underscore the importance of communicating during an outage and the Utilities Department is committing to increased community notifications. Specifically, Utilities is increasing public communication at the beginning of a major power outage, providing updates during an outage as they become available, and alerting the community when restoration of power has taken place, with cause of power outage when known.

Here are additional details on these three stages of communications that have now been implemented, effective immediately:

Initial Outage Community Alert: When an initial outage is known, the Police Department will issue a Nixle alert to followers, Utilities staff will share updates via Palo Alto Utilities Twitter, and for any outage of 500 customers or more, an update will be shared at www.cityofpaloalto.org/outageinfo and the same update will be posted to the City’s home page. The Outage Info page will also include Twitter updates for those that do not have access to Twitter.

Updates during an Outage: Utilities staff will provide outage updates via Utilities Twitter during an outage, as details become available. For extended outages, the Utilities protocol is to post frequently, typically every two hours until power has been restored to all customers.

Power Restoration Alert: Utilities staff will share details on Twitter and via the Outage Info page, once power is restored or partially restored and as cause of the outage is known.

Where to Get Real-Time Power Outage Updates

Image of a Recent Utilities Twitter Post about a Power Outage

With the improved communications protocols outlined above, Utilities is now using the following tools to share information with the community as outages occur moving forward:

Small Outage (50–500 customers impacted) — Outage map will reference the outage and Utilities will post a notification to Twitter.

Large Outage (500 or more customers impacted) — Updates will be shared on the City’s website at www.cityofpaloalto.org/outageinfo, details will also be shared on the City’s homepage under “News” at www.cityofpaloalto.org/ and regular updates will be provided via Utilities Twitter @PAUtilities

Communications resources below provide a summary of the actions that community members can take to make sure they are alerted to future power outages:

· Bookmark www.cityofpaloalto.org/outageinfo

Outage Management System Update In the Works

View of the current Operating Management System map

Updates are in the works to Palo Alto’s outage management system (OMS), including the outage map at www.cityofpaloalto.org/outageinfo and other enhancements to community notifications. On the September 26, 2022 City Council agenda, the Council will consider staff’s recommendation to move forward with a contract agreement that will initiate the OMS upgrade. Once approved, installation of the new system will take six to seven months.

Electric outage information in the new Milsoft Solutions OMS will be integrated with both the GIS database and Utilities Customer Information System. The new system will enable better identification of the outage location and will aid responding crews at the outage location. It can be used for customer notifications of outages and repair schedules by phone, email, text.

Another feature of the OMS is its ability to communicate power outage information for use by both customers and staff. This will allow Utilities to communicate outages to customers based on their communication preferences. Staff will also benefit from the OMS by having a shared interface and dashboard to input trouble calls and track progress. Utilities staff will see new trouble calls as they come in and receive outage status updates in real-time.

Information on the outage will be published to the Utilities web page once it is confirmed as an outage by the System Operator. After the completion of repairs, information saved in the system will assist in analyzing the cause of an outage and other details

In Closing

The City of Palo Alto Utilities Department takes great pride in providing power to the Palo Alto community, and appreciates your patience and support through the recent outages. We are committed to continuing to improve our systems and practices to provide the high quality and reliable utility services that Palo Alto is known for.

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City of Palo Alto

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