Nobody likes power outages, especially when our daily lives depend so much on electricity. Sam Lam, lead electrician at Mt. San Antonio College, would get deluged with questions when a power outage occurred.

“As a staff member in our electrical department, I got a lot of questions from staff and management to estimate when the power can be resumed,” said Lam. That’s why Lam decided to attend the recent Southern California Edison (SCE) Outage School in Irwindale.

SCE’s Business Customer Division began offering Outage Schools in 2010 to non-residential customers, media and employees throughout the utility’s service territory. The main goal is to educate the public about how outages happen, how power is restored, and most importantly, how to stay safe during outages.

According to Tomaso Giannelli, SCE Outage Communications project manager, who presented at the recent Outage School, there are two types of outages: maintenance and repair.

“We want customers to understand that not all outages are due to equipment failure,” he said. “We understand customers want safe and affordable power. That is why we are upgrading our infrastructure to limit the amount of repair outages due to equipment issues. There is a lot of planning that goes into maintenance outages.”

SCE is forecasting a 30 percent increase in maintenance outages in 2014 compared to previous years as the company works to build a smarter grid to meet customers' electricity needs today and in the future.

Typical examples of what causes repair outages are car-hit-pole accidents and extreme weather conditions, such as wind and rain. Party-favorite metallic balloons can also cause unexpected power outages if they accidentally drift into power lines.   

“There is a lot of preparation and anticipation during repair outages on how we safely restore power to the greatest amount of customers as quickly as possible,” said Giannelli. “We understand outages can cost businesses money, and we want to make it as least invasive as possible.”

Giannelli pointed out that SCE has been broadening its outreach to small- to medium-size businesses that are in an “untapped” area and need to better understand outages. He also noted that SCE sends notifications via text message, email or phone to customers in advance of maintenance outages and during repair outages. 

“We are listening to our customers. We understand they want better notifications,” he said.

SCE launched the mobile outage application last year which allows customers to view outage-related details, including the cause of the outage and the estimated restoration time.

“I liked the Outage School today,” said Lam, after the 90-minute presentation. “Now I know the telephone number and website to check outage updates. It was very informative and helpful.”