Despite FreeState’s best efforts, sometimes the lights go out, and it is often out of our control. One of the questions we get asked most often is what happens during an outage. We want to answer some of those questions this month.
What happens when an outage occurs?
Members should always report an outage. Members can report outages by calling the office at 800-794-1989 or by using the SmartHub mobile app. Every call helps FreeState know how large the area covers, and it also allows us to begin diagnostic protocols. Outage calls also start the dispatching process of crews to the outage to begin restoring power as quickly and safely as possible.
If an outage occurs during FreeState’s regular business hours, your call is routed to our Topeka office first, and one of our member service representatives records your service address and puts it into our outage system. Typically, our member services representatives have little information initially about the outage so keep that in mind when making phone calls to the office. FreeState’s engineering and line departments are then notified by our outage system that there is an outage and crews are then dispatched to the location to begin troubleshooting.
If an outage occurs outside regular FreeState business hours, your calls go to our third-party call center to go through the same process.
Linemen are required to rotate being on call. If an outage occurs during that time, they are dispatched from their home to respond to the outage. Keep in mind that after-hours dispatching may take longer due to the nature of getting crews to the location. With only two linemen on-call after hours and many areas to cover, it may take longer than an outage occurring during the day when all crews are on and can cover a larger area.
If after-hours outages are significant, FreeState may call in our employees to assist with after-hours calls or dispatch crews to the reported outages.
During storm season (spring and winter) advance notice is often given by weather bureaus. FreeState monitors these conditions to be as proactive as possible. Additional linemen and employees are placed on call to serve members quicker in the event of a significant outage or infrastructure damage caused by a storm. Scout teams can also be assembled to held categorize outages accordingly.
During outages, there are a few things that keep linemen from actively responding like a fire in progress, a gas leak, and lighting. As soon as it is safe to do so, our crews are working to restore power no matter how cold, rainy, or snowy it gets.
Why are my neighbor's lights on, but I’m in the dark?
Your home may be on a different distribution line than your neighbor. To handle the load neighborhoods, businesses, towns, and individual residences use different lines, substations, and electric poles to provide power.
Why aren’t you coming to my residence first? My problem seems like a simple fix.
When FreeState has an outage, we follow a protocol for restoring power quickly. Relatively small outages or isolated outages are dispatched in the order they are received or the availability of a crew. However, during significant outages, the priority in a major outage is emergency management, fire stations, and hospitals.
During an outage, we begin by determining the source. We assess our generation facilities and determine the source to begin repairs. There is a standard protocol for repairing and restoring during an outage. Our infrastructure is the backbone of delivering power. Transmission lines that carry electricity from generation stations are first on the list, followed by:
- Substations where high-voltage power from a transmission line is reduced for member usage.
- Distribution lines that carry electricity from substations to each neighborhood, or distribution hubs.
- Tap lines that serve direct homes and businesses.
- Individual lines to customers. These are the most difficult and time-consuming in the restoration process.
Above all, our crews’ safety is our priority.
What causes an outage?
There are common reasons why outages occur. The chart shows that a majority of outages are weather-related events, but there are a few other causes.
Animals and trees making contact with wires can cause an outage. To limit this, we trim trees away from lines and install animal guards on pole-top transformers. We use squirrel guards, raptor protectors, and use other construction methods to keep animals out of harm’s way, and to keep them from causing an outage.
Other events like digging, construction, or auto accidents can cause damage to power poles or lines. In our area, it is also common to have farm-related outages like equipment getting tangled in the wire. It is essential to be aware of your surroundings while working on the farm. It not only ensures your safety but can limit damage-causing accidents.
Equipment failure can also be a reason for an outage. In rare cases, transformers and other equipment may fail during normal operations. Alternatively, an overload may also cause failure. We typically see these problems on extremely hot or high peak days during May through September.
Power supplier failure can also cause outages. As a distribution cooperative, we are reliant on Evergy and KEPCo. If one of those suppliers is experiencing an outage, it may impact our system.
On average it takes about 45 minutes to repair a transformer, and an average of four hours to replace power poles depending on the type of pole. Smaller single-phase poles take less time to repair than larger three-phase or transmission poles.
Outages may vary depending on the season and can last a few seconds to a few hours. Power can also be out for days when the situation is severe. Our crews are often out in dangerous weather conditions to restore power, especially when riding out the lines by foot to find the source of an outage.
What do we do to prevent outages?
While we cannot control the weather, we can work to limit outages by maintaining equipment.
Planned outages are a part of upgrading and repairing equipment safely. They are used to limit longer, unplanned outages later. We notify you before a planned outage and make every effort to limit negative impacts. Before a planned outage a phone call alerting you of the outage is sent out.
Tree trimming is one maintenance practice we can do to help limit tree damage. FreeState has a designated tree crew at each office to work specifically on right-of-way clearance. They can also be called out to remove damage so that linemen can get to an area to begin working safely.
Investing in new equipment and technology is also a way to maintain infrastructure by replacing aging equipment, installing upgrades for efficiency and building infrastructure that keeps up with the increasing demand for power.
Preparing for the worst is what we do. We train our employees to provide the safest, most efficient service to our members. Our member service representatives are trained to respond to your calls quickly, or our crews are trained to react and repair as quickly as possible. We also have backups built into our infrastructure, and we also keep stocks of materials on hand, so we are ready whenever a replacement is needed.