Surprise Power Outage has Far-Reaching Consequences

May 08, 2015

By Rory J. Thompson - Web Editor

Having the lights flicker for a second in your office is cause for a quick moment of panic, but nothing more. Losing power for a short time is annoying. But losing power for WEEK? That can be a big problem, and it’s exactly what some companies in Charleston, West Virginia, are looking at.

According to a report in the Charleston Gazette, an underground fire in the business district Thursday night knocked out power to several nearby buildings, and the prognosis is gloomy.

“A little before 7 p.m., a loud boom was heard and a manhole cover flew into the air,” the paper said. “Not long after, a reporter saw smoke billowing through the air and heard clanging from the area.”

The fire department responded, and Paul Allen Craigo, assistant fire chief for the Charleston Fire Department, said American Electric Power (AEP) workers told him some buildings with power currently off downtown could be without power for a week. “It’s a big, big job,” he added.

AEP workers arrived at about 7:30 p.m., and after they put out the main fire, some of the equipment was still smoldering. They used water to put it out, and some of the fire was “re-energized,” Chief Craigo said. Scott Chambers, regional support manager for AEP, said the incident was caused when some cables underground caught fire, the Gazette reported.

Although some businesses came back online shortly after, others were not so lucky. But regardless of when they get power back, the fire and ensuing blackout only serve to heighten the importance of having some kind of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system in place. Such a system can offer a little extra bit of power required to shut off a computer safely, finishing up a last bit of work and successfully saving the day for some workers before logging off until the power comes back on. For those times when the power is only off for a short while — sometimes a blackout can last as little as 30 seconds — it may well allow a user to carry on with a workday as though nothing happened but a small interruption in connectivity. But even with a long-term outage, being able to save what you’ve worked on can make a huge difference.

Obviously, if power will be out for days, there are bigger problems. But it’s best to be prepared for any kind of outage. Thinking about it after the fact is too late.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi