Crews fight mayhem when power runs outgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Tuesday, January 30, 2001 3:32 AM MST Crews fight mayhem when power runs out By Inga Miller and Craig Kapitan STAFF WRITERS
When the lights go out, the challenge is on for John Dillon and a brigade of workers charged with the duty of keeping facilities running.
Blackouts across the region threaten to create everything from overflowed sewage pipes to traffic accidents. Through the ranks of city planning departments, officials are coming up with solutions.
"Repair crews are on heightened standby," said Dillon, the transportation services director for the City of San Ramon who is in charge of the city's traffic signals. "Since we don't know where or when the power is going to go out, it creates a really difficult situation for us."
Relying on the common sense of drivers to stop when a traffic signal is out has proven a risky proposition. When the first PG&E power failure rolled through Pleasanton last week, several fender benders were attributed to drivers failing to treat dark intersections as four way stops.
"We really didn't do anything differently during the first outage but say, 'My gosh, this is a little different,'" said Bill Van Gelder, Pleasanton's deputy public works director in charge of transportation.
Since then, he has been studying the best mode of action.
The risk of future collisions prompted Dublin officials to change their plan for what to do when the power fails. When a blackout next hits the city, and any one of Dublin's 35 traffic signals go dark, city crews will race to the intersection with emergency stop signs. If it's no longer daylight, they might bring flares along, too.
"Then we have to watch those intersections carefully for when the signals come up again," said Ginger Russell, who is in charge of traffic signals and lighting for Dublin. "We don't want drivers to be confused, with a stop sign and a working traffic light."
Livermore and Lathrop are looking into the use flares at intersections deemed especially dangerous.
But those kinds of precautions actually could be prove more dangerous, says warns Pleasanton's Van Gelder. They potentially could cause more confusion -- and more accidents.
Officials in Danville, San Ramon, Pleasanton, Manteca and Tracy have all decided not altering intersections during a blackout will be the best route to take.
Driving through the Valley from Danville to Dublin and over the hill to Tracy may be a different experience.
Intersections in cities will have flares. Others will be completely dark. But the rules for drivers should always be the same: Treat any intersection like a four way stop, urge traffic safety officers.
"There's a lot we're thinking about," said Danville Traffic Engineer Nazanin Shakerin.
Danville crews won't be found dragging temporary stop signs to intersections, but officials there are considering purchasing battery operated signals that would continue working through an electrical failure. She estimates the cost of the battery operated gizmos to be anywhere between $3,500 and $17,000 per intersection.
"We're obviously not going to be able to buy them for all of the intersections because it's so expensive," Shakerin said. "But we think we should have them for a flashing red signal at some of the intersections."
She noted battery models that simply flash a red stop light are on the lower end of the cost curve, which goes up dramatically for signals that remain fully operational during blackouts.
Livermore officials also are considering purchasing a few battery operated signals for several of their larger intersections, said Mohammad Pournia, who is in charge of traffic there.
In the meantime, it's up to police to determine whether emergency aids such as temporary stop signs or flares are necessary.
While city workers are rushing around on the streets, underneath the flares and asphalt, sewage and fresh water should continue to flow uninterrupted.
"We're helping out by not taking up any PG&E power," said Contra Costa Water District Director of Administration Paul Morsen, explaining that the sewage treatment plant in Martinez switched over to generating its own power several years ago.
Like everyone else, officials at the Water District offices are also trying to conserve electricity, but for a slightly different reason, he said. The generator system is run on PG&E gas, which has also sharply risen in price.
While the treatment plant has its own power, water pump stations still rely on PG&E. But that, too, is not a problem, Morsen explained.
"The juice went off and the diesel went on," he said of last week's power outage.
The Dublin San Ramon Services District sewage treatment plant is also self-sufficient due to a co-generator, said customer service supervisor Marilyn Messier.
But because the plant is considered a vital industry, it doesn't have to worry about the blackouts, anyway. The plant is immune.
Also like the Contra Costa district, DSRSD relies on portable generators when power failures hit individual pump stations. No disturbances were reported last week.
Technicians at the Del Valle Treatment Plant in Livermore also had little to worry about last week when power failures hit the Valley. Operations were already shut down so that technicians could install a booster pump.
But if the plant had been in operation, emergency generators would have kicked in, officials said.
Unlike Y2K, there's no need to stock up on bottled water, either.
Fresh water continued to be pumped throughout the Valley, thanks to two emergency generators Zone 7 set up to guard well fields.
For now, crews assure, it's under control. In the words of Dublin's Russell, "We're doing the best we can."
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 30, 2001