Sunday, March 6 was no day of rest for crews with the Overton Power District (OPD) as they scrambled to find the cause of a power outage that began around 3 p.m. in the Mesquite and Moapa Valley areas.
According to Keith Buchhalter, OPD Customer Service Supervisor, lightning struck one of the three main poles that feed electricity into the Tortoise Substation in Glendale. That substation provides power to Mesquite, the Moapa Valley and many parts of Lincoln County. The strike caused “static to fall on the phases” and cut power to nearly 15,000 residences and businesses in northeast Clark County and an unknown amount of Lincoln County. An official with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas confirmed via Facebook that there was some lightning activity at the time.
When crews arrived to fix the damaged pole they discovered a second pole that was leaning awkwardly and also needed repair.
The damage done required Mesquite and Overton OPD crews to gather supplies and rebuild the pole. Weather played a huge hand in the process and prevented them from completing repairs as quickly as they initially projected. At first, it looked to be a six-hour outage but that turned into 10 hours and finally 15 hours. All projections were missed as power was finally restored to most areas by 7 a.m. Monday morning, 16 full hours after the power shut off.
There were some service areas around Mesquite like Sunset Greens and Santa Theresa as well as behind the Eureka Casino Resort that waited even longer. Crews were able to troubleshoot those areas and bring them back to normal around 8:30 a.m. Monday morning.
Mendis Cooper, OPD General Manager told the Mesquite Local News Monday morning that the incident was “simply just a moment of bad luck and that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the incident.”
“It was about the worst possible location that it could be,” he said. The weather played a large role in the delay as it began as a windy and stormy afternoon and then turned cold. “Dealing with the type of structure we worked on is very tedious. Then dealing with being tired and cold in the dark just made for a long night for everybody.” According to Cooper, every available technician was on site trying to bring the electricity back up.
When asked if this incident could have been different, Cooper stated that “There’s always alternatives. But the location where this happened, to do something different for this is a very, very expensive option. So, no, there was nothing reasonable that could have been done.”
With this power outage being the second major outage in just 17 months, many people on Facebook were asking why other methods weren’t used to bring back power, even if it was just for a short time. The fact that there is no secondary line of electricity available in the immediate area is one that many residents and businesses are becoming frustrated with. Looking to the east, light shined bright from Scenic as they are fed power from Dixie Escalante in St. George. Cooper claims that the St. George lines couldn’t support all of Mesquite and wouldn’t be a viable option as a backup plan.
Cooper doesn’t deny that it would be ideal to have a secondary line, a redundant line if you will, available for incidents like these. “The problem is that it is very expensive to bring another line in from Las Vegas. It would be roughly $100 million. We’re working with some partners to do that but we haven’t had a partner yet who will step up to build a line to do that.”
He said some OPD employees helped notify residents with medical needs who rely on a steady stream of electricity on the status of the outage. “We had our office staff come in and call people who we knew may have needed medical assistance or are oxygen. We put it in our database so that when we have a situation like this we call them directly and let them know what’s going on and give them directions if they need to go to the hospital.”
Meanwhile, local emergency responders did their part to keep the city as safe as possible. According to Mesquite Deputy Police Chief Scott Taylor and Chief Troy Tanner, Mesquite police officers, their volunteers and the city Public Works Department covered 11 street intersections until around 11 p.m. to keep traffic running smoothly. The Mesquite Fire Department assisted with that task until about 10:30 p.m.
But directing traffic wasn’t the biggest problem for MPD. The Mesquite 911 dispatch center received 368 calls in the 16 hour time frame during the power outage. Most of those calls were not related to actual emergencies but were people asking when power would be restored. “Although this is a much higher call volume than usual, we were able to answer and field every call we received,” the press release said. MPD officials then reminded the community to use their regular contact phone number at (702)346-5262 for questions.
Tanner also said “I want our community to know we take public safety seriously and last night we worked hard to make sure our residential neighborhoods and local businesses were constantly being monitored and checked throughout the night.” He followed that by urging citizens to stay home during flooding situations and power outages and reduce the amount of work police officers must contend with in emergencies.
Because of the seriousness of the incident, the City of Mesquite Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated. Communications at the time between Fire Chief Kash Christopher, Firefighter Spencer Lewis and OPD went well, as they had hoped. “Things went very well. Communications from the EOC to other entities was good,” said Lewis. He also stated that in talking with OPD crews at the time, it would have taken the same amount of time to reroute the power as it did to repair it the right way.
The web EOC was also activated by Clark County Fire Chief John Steinbeck. He also activated the multi-agency coordination center. An emergency alert was sent to all wireless users around 7:15 p.m. notifying them of the estimated power outage which at the time was midnight. The notice had been initially created two hours earlier but due to technical issues its issue was delayed. “We have everything in place,” said Christopher. “It’s not an easy process”
According to Lewis the Mesquite EOC was terminated at midnight when OPD notified them that repairs would likely continue until 4 a.m. It was later reopened around 5 a.m. Monday morning as calls began to come in from patients with oxygen tanks that were running out. Several runs were made to assist them with oxygen until the power came back on. Logandale Volunteer Fire Department crews reported doing the same in their area.
During the outage, Lewis reported that the department received 12 fire alarm calls, a common occurrence when power is out over an extended time. The alarms sense that something is wrong and sound off. Crews responded to the calls as needed. In total, there were 10 fire department personnel on duty during the outage. “Our guys did a great job considering what they had to work with,” said Christopher. “Everything is in place for the EOC and we are utilizing it every chance we get to make it better for all involved.”