Sunday power outage affected more than 10,000 Mono County residents.
A Southern California Edison power outage affected 10,662 customers in Mono County. There were blackouts in Mammoth, but the vital facilities, such as the hospital and the ski area have backup generators to keep things running. The backup engines on Mammoth and June ski lifts were so smooth, hardly anyone noticed the outage, according to the mountain.
The lights went out at 1:35 p.m. with the first set of customers, 1,799 of them, coming back on 24 minutes later. By 4 p.m. power was restored to another 7,000-plus customers with the remaining 1,100 or so getting their lights back on by 6:30.
Mark Brownlie, Chief Operating Officer for Mammoth and June Lake ski areas, said there were total blackouts at all the resorts including Canyon Lodge and Tamarack. Evacuation procedures of customers on the lifts didn’t have to be implemented because the backup generators kept the operations moving. Brownlie said some skiers may have noticed a delay, maybe a hiccup on the lifts, but nothing to substantiate the rumors that people were stuck on lifts.
He said it was business as usual for the 3,000 to 4,000 customers on the mountain at that time, but the skiers got rainchecks anyway, Brownlie explained.
He credits the maintenance crew for braving the cold and blizzard-like conditions and getting the backup generators on the lifts going before anybody knew what was going on. He said training pays off and the operation was put to the test during the outage, and it performed well.
“No other mountain on the planet could have pulled this off,” Brownlie said.
Mammoth Lakes Police Department said there were no injuries or accidents associated with the outage. There were a couple of cars that overturned or skidded off the road, but those couldn’t be blamed on a power outage.
The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office did not receive any reports of injuries or damage due to the outage, adding that the southern end of Inyo did experience some brownouts, or intermittent outages and power surges.
Mammoth Hospital’s CEO Gary Myers said there were some Information Technology issues associated with the outage, but nothing that affected patient care. “We do have back-up generators that kick on during a power outage throughout the hospital building although the clinic buildings have only very limited, or in the case of the orthopedic clinic building, no generator back-up power. We also have an extensive checklist of activities for all staff on duty to perform to ensure power to all patient safety equipment and essential I.T. equipment. We delay any non-emergency elective surgery as a precaution.”
The cause of the outage is complex, according to David Song, representative for SCE. It’s not a local infrastructure problem but a symptom of a larger service problem the utility is still trying to figure out. Song said what SCE does know, is that the event was weather-related. Song said it’s not necessarily a major issue at SCE, but any amount of time without power is a big deal, especially with the bitter cold temperatures as experienced last weekend. And it is a big deal that more than 50 percent of the county’s total population was blacked out, Song added.
Song explained that SCE has three major substations, locally, that handle 15 circuits altogether. The circuits come back on one at a time, resulting in power surges for some and a delay in resuming power for others. He said SCE is working on the malfunction so that it won’t happen again, but there’s no time frame for when the problem will be fixed. SCE’s motto is “Safe and Reliable” and reliability equals safety, Song explained. A prolonged outage during a bitter cold spell or major storm could spell disaster.