How Power is Restored After an Outage

Restoring the power after a severe storm involves much more than just flipping a switch at a substation or pulling a fallen tree off a downed power line. Highly trained workers from local utilities and crews from neighboring states work together around the clock to restore service.

Described here are the steps utilities follow to restore power. At each stage, the primary goal is getting the greatest number of consumers back online in the shortest time possible.

Make sure you report any outage to your utility, even if you think a neighbor already has called. This will help line crews isolate and repair the problem as soon as possible.

If you or a family member depends on life-support equipment, call your utility immediately. Your utility can try to prioritize power restoration to you or advise you to take shelter elsewhere.

Do not connect a generator directly to household wiring. The power from a generator can backfeed to power lines and injure or electrocute lineworkers making repairs.

1. High-Voltage Transmission Lines

Transmission towers and lines that supply power to one or more transmission substations rarely fail. However, when damage does occur—usually due to high winds or ice buildup—these towers and lines must be repaired before other parts of the distribution system are inspected because they serve thousands (or tens of thousands) of people.

2. Local Distribution Substations

A utility usually has several local distribution substations, each serving hundreds or thousands of consumers. When there is a major outage, these substations usually are checked first to see if the problem is in the transmission system to the substations or the substations themselves.

3. Local Distribution Lines

If the problem cannot be isolated at a distribution substation, the next step is to check the distribution lines that carry power to groups of consumers, such as towns or housing developments.

4. Line Crews

Line crews work on outages that are more localized by inspecting the final supply lines—called tap lines— that carry power to utility poles or underground transformers outside small businesses, schools and homes.

5. Final Step

The final step in repairs is for isolated outages—for example, those caused by a damaged service line between a transformer and an individual home.

Be Prepared!

Equip yourself with the proper supplies in the event of a power outage, emergency or disaster. Consider adding the following items to a kit you can use at home or take with you in case of evacuation.

  • Water: one gallon per person, per day
    Food: nonperishable, easy-to-prepare items
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications and medical items
  • Multipurpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with charger
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Emergency blanket
  • Maps of the area
  • Medical supplies
  • Baby supplies
  • Games and activities for children
  • Pet supplies
  • 2-way radios
  • Extra set of car keys and house keys
  • Manual can opener

For more information, go to the Red Cross's page on how to prepare for emergencies.