One Random Animal Was Enough to Kill the Power in Waukee

September 15, 2016

By Steve Anderson - Contributing Writer

I've noted it here on more than one occasion; the power grid in the United States, that we all depend upon, is a surprisingly fragile beast. One lone car hitting a power pole can take out power for hours. One misguided animal can fry a transformer. The folks in Waukee, Iowa recently got a taste of that lesson first-hand as a random animal took out a transformer in Waukee Tuesday, showing us all how important backup power systems really are.

The transformer in question was at the Mid America Energy substation just north of Waukee High School, at around 10:15 AM. The resulting blackout caused by the blown transformer cost 3,822 customers the use of power, and though the outage only lasted about 45 minutes, it was proof of just how easy it is to lose power even without an obvious storm in the area. As for the cause—as the opening paragraph noted—the blown transformer was chalked up to a small animal that made contact with it.

A 45-minute power outage isn't exactly a disaster, though given its impact, it's much worse than the duration implies. The outage took both power and phone lines out for much of the local schools, including Waukee Elementary, Middle and High Schools, as well as Timberline School, Prairieview School, South Middle School, and the district offices. The schools went to an adjusted schedule, but lunch was still to be served and dismissal time had also not changed.

How a lunch got produced without power is beyond me—I know people involved in school lunch production efforts—but it might well have been reduced to a comparatively simple affair involving sandwiches and potentially salads. It may not have even been all that badly impacted. Still, 45 minutes without power and phone lines in an actively-running school cannot be a pleasant activity.

This in turn should serve as a lesson to us all. The use of uninterruptible power supplies can be a big help in power outages, whether just enough power to save documents and shut down systems, or sufficiently sized to carry through a full outage. Turning to larger generating systems—full generators, solar panels, wind turbines or similar matter—can provide even more time away from the grid, which can be even better for extended outages. It's even worthwhile to consider telecommuting options so, in the event of outages, employees can simply pack up and continue working from alternate locations that still have power.

In the end, there's one key point to take away. When a business experiences a power outage, it can either plan ahead and carry on, or be shut down. Going with the second option runs the risk of loss to those businesses that went with the first option, so be ready, and have backup systems in place so that a power outage doesn't mean a business outage.

Edited by Alicia Young

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