Weirdest 2012 power outage causes: space shuttle, copperhead, wild turkey

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Eaton has released its Blackout Tracker Annual Report for 2012. For the fourth year in a row, California topped the list of states with the most power outages in 2012, followed by New York and Texas. On average, 13,442 people were affected for 154 minutes per outage in 2012 and power failures caused problems for people and businesses in all 50 states.

“The first step in mitigating the risk of unexpected downtime is to understand the causes and likelihood of utility power outages,” said Mike DeCamp, senior marketing communications manager, Eaton Power Quality Division. “The data in the Blackout Tracker report underscores the importance of a comprehensive power protection plan, which can be designed by a power professional to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes.”

The data is based on a full year of reported power outages across the United States and is organized into two sections: an overview of national power outage data and power outage data by state. Overall, 2,808 reported outages were used as the basis for the 2012 report, representing a decrease of about 9 percent from the 3,071 outages reported in 2011. The amount of people affected by outages also decreased from 41.8 million in 2011 to 25 million in 2012.

Analysis of Blackout Tracker data confirms a generally upward trend with the following results for number of reported outages affecting 50,000 or more people:

  • 42 outages in 2009
  • 52 outages in 2010
  • 109 outages in 2011
  • 65 outages in 2012

The report also includes statistics that illustrate the importance of reliable backup power and features top outage lists, including the most significant reported outages, largest data center outages and the most unusual causes for outages.

Although power failures are common, uninterruptible power systems and generators are designed to reliably deliver power during outages.

Among the most unusual causes of power outages in 2012:

  • Los Angeles: On Oct. 12, a planned outage was necessary so the space shuttle Endeavor could travel through the streets of Los Angeles to the California Science Center.
  • Gadsden, Ala.: On May 16, a 6-foot copperhead snake slithered into equipment and caused major transmission issues, cutting power to 6,700 people and affecting numerous substations.
  • Sonoma County, Calif.: On April 8, a wild turkey flew into power lines and knocked out an emergency 911 dispatch system. The bird also crippled operations at the county courthouse and jail until the following day.

Eaton has tracked power outage information since Feb. 16, 2008, in an effort to educate consumers on the causes and potential impact of outages. A power outage is just one of nine common power problems that affect power quality and availability.

Data for the annual report is based on reports from news services, newspapers, websites (including those of newspapers and TV stations) and personal accounts.

In 2011, the Blackout Tracker revealed 41.8 million people were affected by power outages.

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