Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1

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Customer Service (M-F 8a-5:30p): 425-783-1000

Storms & Outages FAQs

Storm Restoration


How does the PUD decide which outage repair jobs to do first?

During major storms, a number of factors are considered in order to determine which repairs crews make first. 

1st Priority: Transmission image First, the utility focuses on outages at the higher-voltage transmission level, which affect substations that serve large numbers of customers, hospitals, schools and businesses.
2nd Priority: Safety image Oil spills from transformers, wires blocking main highways and wires down on buildings or vehicles get high priority based on the safety hazards they present.
3rd Priority: Substation image Next to be restored are substation main line circuits that serve neighborhoods and/or businesses.
4th Priority: Smaller outages image Smaller outages are then addressed. These may be caused by transformer malfunctions or fallen service lines and may serve one or just a few homes.
5th Priority: Non-essential Street Lights image Finally outages impacting non-essential street lights are resolved. 

Storm & Outage Frequently Asked Questions

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When is it safe to approach a power line on the ground, and it is okay to drive over these lines?

It's never safe to approach a power line that is on the ground! (This is often called a "downed" power line.) Approaching downed power lines can be fatal. You don’t even have to touch a downed line to be electrocuted. Electricity always wants to go to the ground and can reach you through the ground if you get close enough to a downed live wire. Stay at least 30 feet away from any downed line. Call the PUD immediately to report the location of any downed line. If the downed line is life-threatening (for example, sparking or on top of an occupied car), call 911.

Some people think it’s okay to drive across downed lines, believing that the rubber in the car tires will protect them. While that is true to some extent as long as you stay inside the car, the greater danger is that the downed wire can become entangled in the car’s axle or wheels. This could cause you to pull down the pole or could prevent you from being able to drive any further. Bottom line: do not drive over downed power lines unless it is a last resort.

Why is my power out but my neighbor still has electricity?”

This could be a result of one of the following reasons:

  • Your home may be served off a different PUD distribution circuit than your neighbor’s home. If this is the case, the circuit serving your neighbor’s home is working as it should, while the circuit serving your home has sustained an outage. This process is similar to when you have a breaker trip or blown fuse at home. The home’s circuit that has the blown fuse or switch will be without power, while the rest of your home will still have power since it is being served by another circuit(s).
  • Your home may have damage to your overhead service. Sometimes during storms there can be damage to your weatherhead (roof-mounted pole structure) where the electric service comes into the house. Your weatherhead belongs to you, so if it is damaged and in need of repair, it is your responsibility to get a licensed electrician to fix it before the PUD can legally restore power. Once necessary repairs are completed, the PUD will send a serviceman to make permanent connections and restore power.
  • The transformer serving your home may be out of service following an outage restoration if too much electrical load is placed on the transformer when power is restored. When power is restored by the PUD after a storm, electrical appliances and heat in homes also start up. When this occurs all at once, service lines and transformers serving individual houses can become overloaded and can cause an outage. It is important for customers to remember to turn off electric stoves and burners, as well as other electrical devices that can be dangerous if unattended when the power is restored. In fact, turn off as much electrical load potential as possible -- just keeping a light bulb or two on to let you know when power is back. This ensures your transformer and the electrical lines serving your neighborhood won’t become overloaded and cause a second outage when power is restored.
Why aren't more details available about outages and when power will be restored?

In general, the PUD cannot list specific addresses that are without power, since outages are often widespread throughout the utility’s 2,200 square-mile service territory. Plus, with ongoing restoration efforts, the location of outages changes very quickly. It is very difficult for the utility to predict how long a specific customer will be without power, due to the sheer number of jobs that need to be completed, changing weather conditions, availability of crews and repair supplies, and a number of other factors. Adding to that, trees that have fallen on power lines or brush that limits access to restoration sites may need to be cleared before repair work can begin. This can often be an all-day job. Often, PUD crews may not be able to estimate how long a job may take until they arrive at the site to begin clearing it for the work.

Some customers have asked why the PUD can’t contact a line crew by radio to check on when a specific street or address might have power restored. During a major storm, tens of thousands of customers might be without power. Based on the huge volume of customers affected in a major storm, it would be unrealistic to expect the PUD to be able to radio crews to handle each customer inquiry about restoration work in the field. The radio’s primary function is for the safety of the workers and any additional “traffic” on the radio would jeopardize this safety. It would also divert the PUD crew in the field from its primary focus – restoring power to customers – and dramatically slow the work of field crews.

WE DO POST OUTAGE UPDATES DURING MAJOR STORMS ON OUR WEBSITE, OUR FACEBOOK PAGE, AND TWITTER FEED. We also activate an outage map.

Do emergency safety issues impact storm restoration? What if I have a wire down on my property? Will a crew respond faster?

The PUD gives high priority to emergency situations such as a life in danger. In cases when wires are down, are visibly burning, or are part of a higher voltage primary line, the repairs will receive higher priority. In cases when service lines (going directly to a home) are down on a resident’s property, the PUD will make the repair as soon as possible after main or primary lines are restored. However, in a large storm, the PUD may have hundreds of primary and service lines down throughout its service territory. Customers should always stay away from these lines – and always assume they are live. Telephone and TV lines can also pose a hazard especially if they are wrapped up with the power lines. Customers should call the PUD at 425-783-1001 to report downed lines, so that the utility can assign a crew to perform the needed repairs. If PUD phone lines are overwhelmed, they can also call 911 to report life-threatening situations. 911 dispatchers have direct communication links to the PUD.

How should customers with medical conditions prepare for potential power outages?

Customers with a medical condition that requires uninterrupted electric service should make plans to assure their safety in the event of a power outage. They should consider acquiring a source of standby power or determine if an emergency generator is available. They may want to make arrangements with friends, relatives or a local agency to transport them to an area where electricity is available. While the PUD strives to provide continuous electric service to customers, it cannot guarantee that occasional power outages or failures occur. During winter months the likelihood of power outages increases due to seasonal storms.

What type of information is available to customers?

The PUD has an outage map available 24/7 regardless of the conditions and number of power outages. During a major storm, the PUD also provides area radio and television stations with regular updates about the number of customers without power, the general vicinity of outages and tips about what to do during outages. Radio stations that work with the PUD on outage updates include: KIRO-FM (97.3), KOMO-AM/FM (1000/97.7), KSER-FM (90.7) and KRKO-AM (1380). Television stations include KOMO-TV, KING-TV, KIRO-TV, and KCPQ-TV. PUD customer service representatives also provide similar information to customers when they call with questions.

Should customers report all power outages?

If your power does go out and your house is the only one in your neighborhood affected, please call our automated power outage number (425-783-1001, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). If other houses around you are without power, rest assured that we’re working to restore your service as soon as possible. However, if your power is still out after 24 hours, please call us with your address.

Should I unplug sensitive electronic equipment during a power outage?

Yes. These types of electronics do not handle power surges well, and the return of power after an outage may entail a brief surge of power. In fact, during a power outage, you should also turn off any electric item that was on before the outage except for one light so you know when power is restored. Not only does this protect your appliances, it eases the electrical demand when power is restored.

What types of things should customers keep in their homes in case the power goes out?
Is the PUD doing anything to improve customer communications during storms?

In addition to the 24/7 outage map, the PUD has other resources for customers. To provide timely information to customers, the PUD created an automated service that allows customers to call the PUD’s main switchboard phone number and press "#1" to get updates about general locations of power outages. When possible, more specific locations are listed. In addition, in recent years, the PUD has become more proactive in working with local TV and radio stations to provide updated information about storm restoration efforts.

Why doesn't the PUD put all of its lines underground so they're protected during storms?

About 40 percent of the PUD’s lines are underground. Many customers and communities prefer this option because it provides an uncluttered appearance to a neighborhood and reduces the number of tree-related power outages. However, underground systems are much more expensive to construct and must be paid for by the developer or customers who benefit.

The PUD estimates that, depending on terrain, voltage and current-carrying capacity of a power line, it can cost as much as three times more to install an underground power line than an overhead power line of the same distance. The difference in cost can be as much as $1.5 million more per mile for a new distribution feeder line.

Also, while underground systems are protected from falling trees in wind storms, they have their own set of problems, such as failures caused by overheating, flooding and corrosion, and by careless digging. Moreover, repairs to an underground line are much more difficult and time-consuming than they are for an overhead power line.

Underground lines are an option that many homeowners, developers and communities choose. Many communities have requirements dictating that any new developments are designed with underground lines. The developers must bear the cost of placing the lines underground. In the case of a homeowner or a neighborhood opting to convert from overhead lines to an underground system, they, too, are responsible for the cost of placing power lines underground.

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