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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Emails from the Crazies

At the power company, we responded to a routine outage, about 20 people were out due to the failure of underground cable.

I've always been a little annoyed at the physics involved in faulted cable.  It's like my hot water heater when it sprung a leak.  It was about 15 years old, and it was fine yesterday, but today it is peeing a thin stream onto the basement floor.  What exactly happened to it, physically, (molecularly?), that was the final straw so that it now leaks?  It is like that with distribution cable if no one dug into it.  Yesterday it was fine, today it blows?  What gives?

Anyway, pretty straightforward problem.  About eight padmount transformers are attached to it.  The fault current was enough to blow the cutout at the tap fuse.  My crews located the fault spot, exposed it, and spliced in a new section.  Very routine.

Later, we get this email in dispatch, forwarded by an amused customer service rep.

I live at 1345 S.E. 49 AVE i have a power outage this morning i want you to che3ck if the power grid got hacked by a computer hacker. I have been fighting computer hacker in my computer for a month or so if it was hacked a hit it was (named removed) of (local medium-sized city) check your system over the outage was on 49th Ave.

Unless computer hackers can access remote strands of underground cable and cause their insulation to fail on demand, I think we're safe from the hacking menace.  This is the reply I sent him, flooding him with so much info he hopefully wouldn't ask any more questions.  He didn't.

Hello _____,

A customer service representative forwarded your concern to me.  I am the dispatch supervisor on duty, and will explain what caused your power outage this morning.

Your home is served by the Pleasant Grove Substation, located on the northwest corner of SE 62nd Avenue and SE 29th Street.  You are on Pleasant Grove #2, which proceeds east from the station on 29th/Boxville before running south on SE 49th Avenue.

At the intersection of 18th and 49th there is what we call a riser pole, where the overhead power lines have a tap with a protective fuse that then runs underground to serve the homes north of that intersection, including yours, and it runs on up to the end of Overlook Drive.  Any faults (short circuits) anywhere in this run of cable from the riser pole to the end of Overlook Drive will cause the fuse at the riser pole to open.

What happened this morning that caused your power outage is that a section of underground power cable went bad near 1109 SE Overlook Drive.  When this occurred and the fuse opened, crews responded and began checking the various transformers and cable sections in your neighborhood before locating the bad cable section.  Underground cable cannot be impacted by computer or hacking activities, it only fails for physical reasons (digging, rocks shifting, etc), or deterioration from age.  Once the failed section was identified, it was isolated from the rest of the area cable, and nearly everyone in your neighborhood was restored before the crews began work to repair the bad section.

This entire incident involved physically-activated equipment and devices, no electronic or computer resources were associated with any part of the event.  I hope this alleviates your concerns, thanks for letting us know.  Let me know if we can be of further assistance.

Still, I have to admit wondering how much it must suck to be convinced an evil hacker is out to get you.  Then again, just because you're paranoid does not automatically mean no one is out to get you, right?

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