Why Were We in the Dark? ComEd Sheds Light on Storm's Outages

Many Tinley Park residents were without power for days after the severe thunderstorm system that hit the area June 24. Patch talks to ComEd to pull back the curtain on how the utility handles these types of emergencies.

Credit: ComEd
Credit: ComEd
In late June, a severe thunderstorm system rolled through the south suburbs, causing damage and power outages throughout Tinley Park. 

Although the storm only lasted for a few hours June 24, many residents waited days before their power was restored. Some made arrangements to stay in hotels or with friends and family. Others toughed out the muggy conditions at home, biding their time for the electricity to be restored.

READ: Wind Gusts Rip Off Dugout Roof, Knock Down Fences, Trees

In the end, many Patch readers had questions for ComEd: Why did it take so long for power to be restored? Why were the outages so severe? How does the utility decide who gets priority service?

Patch posed those questions to ComEd, and spokesman John Schoen responded via email. Here's what he had to say, explaining what happens behind the scenes when the power goes out (Patch's questions are in bold; Schoen's answers are in regular text): 

PATCH: Do you know if there was anything that complicated repairs or restoring power [during the week of June 24] in the Tinley Park-Oak Forest area? Were there any special circumstances or concerns? Or was it just the high winds and bad weather?

COMED: ComEd’s south region, which includes Tinley Park and Oak Forest, was particularly hard hit by the June 24 derecho. ComEd’s system saw significant damage from high winds in excess of 70 miles per hour, lightning strikes and rain. Complicating the restoration were additional storms that moved through the area during the course of the week. While we were able to restore 80 percent of customers affected in less than 24 hours, and 95 percent of customers affected in less than 48 hours, there were pockets of customers in particularly hard hit areas who experienced longer restoration times. As with every storm, ComEd made every effort to restore all customers to service as quickly as possible.

How does ComEd figure out how long it will take for power to be restored?

ComEd generates an estimated time of restoration (ETR) for outages based on various parameters, including the type of outage (e.g., wire down, damaged transformer), the magnitude of the storm and the number of crews available. This information is inputted into a database and an ETR is generated for use by ComEd customer service representatives. 

An ETR can change, however, once repair crews begin restoration work. In some cases, new information about the extent of damage is discovered. In other cases, there are obstacles that are encountered (fallen trees, other debris hindering access). Once the onsite assessment is completed, a new ETR is generated.

Because ETRs are subject to change, customers are encouraged to report their outage via text so they can receive regular text updates on the status of their restoration.

I know ComEd increased the amount of on-duty workers twice during the outages, partly to handle restoring power and partly as a way to prepare for the possibility that more bad weather could cause further problems. Is there anything else ComEd did that was above and beyond the normal routine?

In preparation for significant storms, ComEd increases its staffing to ensure that any potential issues can be addressed as quickly and safely as possible. Additionally, during the June 24 storm, ComEd increased staffing of employees not involved in the actual restoration to take on storm-related roles, including working with municipal leaders to prioritize critical facilities, managing more than 270,000 customer calls and addressing more than 600 social media inquiries.

One reader related this story from [the storm's] power outages: The power in her neighborhood had gone out with the storm, but ComEd was able to restore it overnight. 

However, the power went out again the next day because the company needed to shut things down in order to repair another problem. This outage ended up lasting longer than the one caused by the store and was a source of frustration. 

Is this a common occurrence that an outage would be created in order to fix a bigger problem?

Restoring power after a severe storm like [the] derecho [on June 24] is a large undertaking. The derecho, a widespread system of rapidly moving storms that strikes in a relatively straight line, that struck ComEd’s service territory affected approximately 300,000 customers, brought more than 6,000 lightning strikes, strong winds in excess of 75 mph and widespread damage, bringing down power lines and trees. 

We understand how disruptive power outages are to our customers, and we try to avoid having to take customers out of service whenever possible. However, to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, ComEd sometimes is required to de-energize electric service to safely restore power to our customers. We try to minimize these outages as much as possible.

What's the best way for customers to keep on top of information about an outage in their neighborhood?

Customers experiencing a power outage are encouraged to enroll in our free Outage Alerts program, through which they can text the word “OUT” to COMED (26633) and receive text messages with updates on the outage and estimated restoration times. 

Customers can also download ComEd’s free mobile smartphone app, where they can report their outage, get updates and view a mobile-friendly version of the outage map. The app is available for Apple and Android devices. The interactive outage map on ComEd.com also provides information on individual outages, including their cause, crew status and estimated restoration times. Customers can also follow ComEd on Twitter and Facebook for additional updates.

What should customers know when referring to ComEd's outage map? Is there anything they should take into consideration when they see that cause of the outage is still being investigated after 10 or 12 hours?

ComEd’s outage map provides users with street level view of outage location, cause of the outage, crew status and an estimated restoration time. 

During a storm, ComEd’s priority is restoration of service, which in a larger storm takes priority over assigning a cause. The amount of time it takes to assess the manpower and material needed to restore power and assign an estimated restoration time during an outage depends on several factors, including the magnitude of the storm, the severity of the damage and the geographic area affected.

Under the current system, ComEd does not automatically know when a customer’s power goes out. To expedite repairs, customers should contact ComEd to report their outage.  Customers can text the word “OUT” to 26633 and receive text messages with updates on the outage and estimated restoration times or report their outage on ComEd.com, through the mobile app, on ComEd’s Facebook page or 800-EDISON-1.

If the power is out for more than 24 hours, does ComEd help customers in anyway? Can bills be adjusted or money refunded?

We recognize that power outages disrupt the lives and businesses of our customers, and we always do all we can to restore service as quickly and safely as possible. ComEd appreciates our customers’ patience as we work to restore power. Customers are not compensated for power outages resulting from acts of nature; customers are not charged for electricity during the duration of an outage. 

What should customers who have serious medical conditions that require having electricity running but still live at home (as opposed to a medical care facility) do if the power is out for long periods of time?

Customers with a serious medical condition that require a powered device should have a pre-planned alternate location to go to in the event of a power outage or contact local emergency services if they need to be transported to a medical facility until power is restored.

Coverage of the June 24 Storm on Tinley Park Patch:
JP July 12, 2013 at 10:22 AM
it could not have come at a worse time. GAME 6 OF THE STANLEY CUP FINALS!!! i was bummed, but i was totally feeling bad for Baileys. They probably lost out huuuuuge!
lisa July 12, 2013 at 10:51 AM
ComEd does a great job!


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