I have a distinct childhood memory of Hurricane Juan, which hit the Maritimes in late September 2003. The lights went out before the end of the day, and I prayed that the tree outside my room wouldn’t come crashing down in the middle of the night. I don’t remember how many days I was out of school for, but definitely remember that I ate my meals by candlelight long enough for the novelty to wear off.
This past weekend, I watched from afar as friends and family posted updates about Hurricane Dorian. Hundred-year-old trees uprooted, we watched in shock as a crane collapsed in downtown Halifax, and boats had run aground, the wind whipping them free of their anchors. And now, after a few years of collecting data on electricity system reliability, I took note of the power lines and utility poles that fell victim to gale-force winds and pondered how that would look numerically.
Since I’ve started working at CEA, I’ve seen many significant events that have impacted many utilities and that are outside of their control. However, last year, such significant events increased as Canadian communities weathered extreme windstorms, ice storms, and tornadoes. I once thought of Hurricane Juan as an anomalous event, but now, between my own experience and Dorian, I can recite off names of hurricanes as if they’re names of Prime Ministers – bits of information you stow away for use at your neighbourhood pub’s trivia night.
Another thing I’ve learned through my work, is that when nature lashes out and the lights shut off, a lot goes on behind the scenes to get power restored in a safe and timely manner. Mutual assistance agreements and dispatch crews from fellow utilities are always ready to help with post-storm clean up and equipment restoration. Tree-trimming and equipment maintenance programs are implemented year-round to prevent unnecessary equipment contact or damage. Utilities’ communications and operations teams collaborate to keep the public informed on restoration times, reporting outages, and safety around electrical equipment.
In the digital age, utilities have begun posting real-time outages online via outage maps. While Dorian passed, and videos of waves crashing and trees falling made the rounds, I also watched the outage map track and imprint the hurricane’s path. And now, during the aftermath, every time a bubble of outages disappears, I know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people working together around the clock to make that happen.