Electrical Substation Fire Prompts Preparedness Checks

July 29, 2016

By Steve Anderson - Contributing Writer

Recently, an electrical fire left large portions of the Farmington Hills area of Michigan without power, and for those 5,000 or so residents, it couldn't have come at a much worse time given the heat and humidity the area suffered under at the time. With this outage came some new tips on preparedness, and a new reason to check our own backup systems more closely.

The good news of the outage was that, despite the fact that it stemmed from a substation on fire, not only was there no damage to property, but everyone got their power back by around 11 pm that night. It took just about five and a half hours to restore power to half the users, and about another two and a half to go from there. Still, losing power in the hottest part of the afternoon couldn't have helped matters, and the power company, DTE Energy, isn't clear as yet on what caused the substation fire to begin with.

Recommendations emerged on storing 72 hours' worth of food and water, particularly low-sodium foods that don't “increase the thirst level,” though trying to store 72 hours of shelf-stable food without a reliance on salt seems like a long shot at best. Additionally, it was advanced that users should have a portable generator on hand, especially for those who needed refrigerated medicines or oxygen generators, and this is a point that actually extends nicely to other users, particularly businesses.

We all know from practical experience how inherently fragile the power grid is. Even something as simple as actually using it for its intended purpose can be overtaxing; too much power being drawn can cause any number of failures. A car hits a pole, a squirrel dives on a transformer, that's it for electricity for a while. For people this is often “inconvenient,” as DTE Energy lead communications specialist Lisa M. Bolla noted, but for businesses it's a disaster. Every minute without power is time and work lost.

So what can businesses do? Telecommuting options can be important; where the outage is localized, employees can go home, or to businesses like coffee shops where Wi-Fi is available and continue work on at least some level. Another option is to accept responsibility for power generation and have backup systems like an uninterruptible power supply. With such a system, users can at least save work before shutting down properly, and larger-scale generation systems allow businesses to carry on even when the power is out.

Regardless of what method is used, the point in the end is to make sure the electricity keeps flowing. Without it, many of our most common business tools are out of the action, and being ready for the next outage—never a matter of if, but always a matter of when—can mean the difference between a day saved and a day lost to better-prepared competitors.

Edited by Alicia Young

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