An August 15 memo from Lindsborg City Administrator Greg DuMars provides a good look at the raw mechanics of local government, the hidden challenges that confront people who make the city work. DuMars’s memo followed a widely publicized city-wide power outage scheduled for 9 p.m. on August 13. The shutdown was needed to repair and refurbish a transformer at the West McPherson Street substation. Without it, Lindsborg is without electricity.
The outage had been first estimated to last an hour; then, three hours. There were problems. It lasted more than 4½ hours. DuMars explains why, first outlining the need for the repair.
A routine inspection at the substation found that a transformer switch was severely overheated. Thermal imaging revealed that it was “hot”, operating at more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit. “If the switch … had burned up, we would have been without power for several days,” DuMars said. “A worst case scenario would be that if the recloser … did not operate properly and the current continued to flow to the City, the entire substation could have burned. This would have been disastrous and we would have had an outage of weeks and possibly longer,” DuMars said.
Westar Energy, which supplies Lindsborg’s power, was summoned. Officials said that no one is to blame for the problem. “The substation is an electromechanical system that experiences wear and tear and it requires maintenance.
We are fortunate that Westar did the thermo-imaging of the substation and identified the hot switch. This allowed the impact to the community to be minimized,” DuMars said. Why 9 p.m. for the shutdown and not another time? The original plan was to shut down at 9 in the morning. That was scuttled for several reasons, DuMars said. Generators at Lindsborg Community Hospital and Bethany Home, for two examples, were not big enough to operate basic electrical, air-conditioning and mechanical systems alone and for an extended period, on a hot August day. In addition, it was the first day of school; businesses, including restaurants, also would have been without power. The impact of a daytime shutdown would have been enormous, even debilitating.
And later, say after midnight? “Worker safety was and is a primary factor,” DuMars said. The dozen experts called to the substation were not night shift personnel; to have them work until 3 a.m., for example, would diminish alertness, “creating safety issues.” And if trouble surfaced late, demanding extended time for further repair (which did happen), “there is more time to resolve it without impacting the next day.”
At 9 p.m. the sun has set, its impact on homes diminished and the pace of heating reduced. DuMars considered weather forecasts. When the power was shut off, the temperature on the Weather Channel app was 80 degrees. When power was restored, after 1:40 a.m., it was 74 degrees. As noted, problems did surface, extending the time needed for the job.
Public Works Director Tim Dunn, adding to DuMars’s memo, said a “mechanical issue” (trouble) developed with a mobile transformer brought in to substitute while workers performed maintenance on the permanent transformer.
“This happens when delicate equipment bounces across the highways and it took extra time (to repair).” Then, even more trouble: “When all the work had been performed and they were starting to bring us back on line, our main breaker switch between their transformer and our system failed to close properly.” Dunn said. Workers discovered that the backup battery within the switch “had run down over the period of the outage and had to recharge before it would close.” This also took time. Shortly after 1:40 a.m., power again. “I assure you,” Dunn said, “that the people involved in working on this maintenance (to prevent even longer unscheduled outages), are of the highest professional quality and did this work as quickly as they possibly could do so in a safe manner.”
Bring the applause all around.
In a world that can be too quick with a hero label, these people deserve one. They perform the hidden and thankless tasks that make life for the rest of us much safer and better. They are the winners among the ranks, the people in government providing essential services and performing profitless missions day after day and into the night. Without these heroes, life would be much more than a grind and a lot less than decent. We should remember, again, that they are ample reason that we enjoy the good government that we have.