Electricity Power Out--A Dead Squirrel Teaches Y2K Lessons In Fragility & Connectedness

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The unexpected strikes again. (With the demise of a poor little fuzzy-tailed guy).

Contingencies, contingencies.


Power outage cramps fun of summer in East Bay
By Zachary Coile
Sunday, July 4, 1999
)1999 San Francisco Examiner


[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

Ill-fated squirrel blows transformer, knocking out electricity in 6 cities

Theater lights went out. Espresso machines ground to a halt. Ice cream melted.

And one enterprising but unlucky squirrel lost his life.

The squirrel, who sneaked into an El Cerrito substation and short-circuited a transformer bank, set off a power outage that left 38,000 PG&E customers without power in Berkeley, Albany, Richmond, El Cerrito, El Cerrito Hills and parts of Oakland on Saturday afternoon.

The outage began at 12:50 p.m. and lasted an hour and 15 minutes, a PG&E official said, although some businesses said it was several hours before their power was restored.

"We were out for 2.5 hours at least," said Jesse Bramley, manager of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream store at Oxford and Center streets in Berkeley.

"I couldn't get into the cash registers. My ice cream started melting. I lost about $300 in ice cream cakes. I had a full display of ice cream cakes and back-ups in the deep freeze and they all melted. My ice cream turned almost completely to liquid," said Bramley. "It was horrible."

At The Cheese Board on Shattuck Avenue, the outage shut down the restaurant's pizza-making operation during its lunch rush.

"We had some pizza already made, but we probably lost over a thousand dollars of business in pizza alone," said Sloan Fidler, a Cheese Board baker.

Fidler had to spend part of his afternoon re-entering sales numbers into the register, which had gone kaputz during the outage.

"We had to mark everything down on paper," Fidler said. "And it was surprisingly busy today. We thought everyone would be out of town."

Philosophical response

Others affected by the outage were philosophical about the disturbance. At Bel Forno, a Berkeley restaurant, manager Ramin Oskoui served cold sandwiches and salads and whatever foods he could cook with gas.

"People are still coming in, the weather's nice," Oskoui said. "What are you gonna do ..... it's a good exercise for Y2K."

Power was restored to customers by about 2:10 p.m. Saturday, PG&E spokeswoman Maureen Bogues said.

Bogues said the squirrel got into a transformer bank in El Cerrito. As soon as the critter touched the bank, the equipment shut down to protect itself from damage.

The reason the outage was so widespread was three East Bay substations rely on the El Cerrito substation for power. Once the transformer bank short-circuited, all four substations shut down until PG&E crews could assess damage.

In this case, no damage was done.

"Substations are protected by sensors and barbed wire, but small animals sometimes get in," Bogues said. "It's highly unusual for this to happen, but several years ago we had an outage in (San Francisco's) Union Square caused by a critter who got into an electric vault. It took out power for several hours. It happens."

Some PG&E customers were luckier than others.

No customers were at Albany Bowl when the outage hit. The general manager of the bowling alley had decided that business would be slow over the holiday weekend, so he decided to close down to resurface the lanes.

If the outage had occurred when the alley was open, Albany Bowl could have lost hundreds or thousands of dollars, the manager said. Instead all that was lost was a little spoiled food in the alley's refrigerators.

"Very rarely are we fortunate when there's a power outage, but we were very lucky today," said John Tierney, general manager.

United Artists Berkeley Seven on Shattuck was about to start several matinee shows, including "Star Wars Episode I" and "Notting Hill," when the outage hit.

"We had customers in the lobby and some in the audience waiting for the movies to start when everything went out," said Quaneka Jackson, the theater manager. With the theater darkened, theater staff and security had to escort movie-goers out of the building.

"We called PG&E and they didn't know what was going on and didn't give us any time when the electricity would come back on," Jackson said.

Moviegoers were directed to the United Artists theater in Emeryville or invited to come back for a later show.

At the Pasqua Coffee on Oxford Street near the Berkeley BART station, espresso machines and blenders ground to a halt. Customers seeking hot or blended drinks were given the bad news. "We told them that we didn't have hot drinks, but they could still have iced tea or iced coffee," said manager John Young said.

[Now thats hard on Bay Area Java lovers!]

But on a bright, sunny day in the East Bay, most of the store's regular caffeine junkies didn't seem to mind, he said.

"They were just happy we were still open."

Charlie Short of The Examiner staff contributed to this report.

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), July 05, 1999


Teachers come in all shapes and sizes.

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), July 05, 1999.

In my neighborhood, transformers are the method of choice for controlling the local squirrel population. 'course, the power has to be on for it to work! ;0)

Given the amount of time that businesses have had to prepare for y2k, in particular to establish contingency plans to ensure business continuity, I'm more and more amazed that noone is prepared when the power goes out.

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), July 05, 1999.

"they live,we sleep"-John Carpenter

-- zoobie (zoobiezoob@yahoo.com), July 05, 1999.

A Technically Challenged Doomer Squirrel;Looking for nuts. http://members.tripod.com/~StormTrooper_2/index2.htm

-- treading litely (rs@marketwatch.com), July 05, 1999.

Yep, Brooks, that people still *expect* electricity to just pour out without a break, with what's coming -- wow! There's going to be a learning curve :^) But the one person did mention Y2K.

" ... equipment shut down to protect itself from damage ... The reason the outage was so widespread was three East Bay substations rely on the El Cerrito substation for power. Once the transformer bank short-circuited, all four substations shut down until PG&E crews could assess damage."

Of course there will be power out on Rollover, while the grid shuts down and waits for inspection. Too many weird, wild, wooly things will unexpectedly go bleep & alarm and have to be checked out & fixed. Hope they prestock plenty of spare parts and powerful flashlights.

Thanks for the post, Diane. Another reminder ;^)

xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), July 05, 1999.

Isn't that just the way it goes?

If you were trying to get a squirrell to go into a hot noisey cabinet in the middle of the day in the summer, you could not do it.

-- Tom Beckner (tbeckner@erols.com), July 05, 1999.

Interesting post Diane. Last night, July 4th at about 1130 pm midwest area experience a sudden unexplained power outage lasting about 3.5 hours. I have not heard yet the cause but your post certainly got my attention due to our lack of power yesterday.

-- Moore Dinty moore (not@thistime.com), July 05, 1999.

One might go so far as to say...

"Life is unexpected. Prepare for it."

Y2K is just another exclaimation point!


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), July 05, 1999.

The squirrel went nuts with its death wish.

-- Randolph (dinosaur@williams-net.com), July 05, 1999.

Typical behavior of a DGI until the very end.

-- Randolph (dinosaur@williams-net.com), July 05, 1999.

A squirrel getting fried and causing a power outage has nothing to do with the date rollover. As a regular poster I respectfully request piggy squire to delete it.

-- Jimmy Bagga Doughnuts (jim1bets@worldnet.att.net), July 05, 1999.


I had you pegged for being one of the more intelligent trolls around...please don't disappoint me! Surely even you can see that this merely shows the fragility of the electrical system! Geesh!

-- Moore Dinty moore (not@thistime.com), July 05, 1999.

More important, it shows the immediate economic losses to small and medium businesses.

Poor squirrel. Sacrificed in the name of training. Did anybody recover the nuts?

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), July 06, 1999.

Moore Dinty Moore, I had you pegged as being one of the more intolerant doomers here. pleasant surprise, but did you really think I would miss the point of one of squires' moronic off the wall posts.I'm hurt.

-- Jimmy Bagga Doughnuts (jim1bets@worldnet.att.net), July 06, 1999.


Why I'm surprised, sir...surely you jest! I've been flamed so many times I smell like burnt marshmellows! :>

-- Moore Dinty moore (not@thistime.com), July 06, 1999.

Wonder what the squirrel smells like?

-- what me worry? (noway@nohow.com), July 06, 1999.

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