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Mayor details power outage, town’s response

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SMITHFIELD — The power failure that darkened most of town on Dec. 29 was inconvenient, but the blackout could have been worse, and Smithfield crews responded promptly.

That’s the assessment Mayor Any Moore delivered in a lengthy Facebook post on New Year’s Day.

“Though unfortunate and a bit of an inconvenience, if the power outage had to happen, at least it happened early in the morning on a Sunday, when the temperature was unseasonably warm and fewer businesses were open,” the mayor wrote.

“I understand that church services could have been impacted,” he added. “However, as someone stated after attending church during the outage, power isn’t needed in order to preach and pray.”

The outage began at 4:35 a.m., when one of eight electrical breakers at the Hospital Road substation failed, Moore said. That failure “caused the adjacent Duke Energy supply station to trip out,” he said.

When that happened, the entire Hospital Road substation went down, cutting power to about 3,800 customers, Moore said.

The Duke supply station suffered no damage and could have supplied power to the seven substation breakers that were still working,.

But “town crews ... had to cut the entire power supply within the Hospital Road substation to safely make the required repairs,” Moore said.

That’s why so much of Smithfield was in the dark, the mayor explained.

“It should be of note that the portion of the town south of Holding Street, which is served from the Brogden Road substation, was unaffected,” Moore said.

The town is working to tie the rest of Smithfield to the Brogden Road substation, the mayor said. “Once completed, situations such as this outage could be remedied much faster, as the town would have the ability to switch circuits off one breaker onto another in a shorter period of time,” he said.

By 10:30 a.m. on the day of the outage, town crews had completed the needed repairs and began restoring power to customers one breaker at a time, Moore said. “Power was restored to all customers at around 11 a.m.,” he said.

“Given the magnitude of the repair, I am proud of the utility crews and their swift and safe repair of the electrical breaker,” Moore said.

The town doesn’t know what caused the breaker to fail and likely never will, the mayor said. “It may have been a cracked insulator, a bird or another animal,” he wrote.

The mayor’s post hinted that the town had faced some criticism, especially over how it communicated with the public about the outage. “We strive to get reliable and accurate information out as soon as possible,” he said. “However, the timing of this event hindered our response somewhat.

“Please note that our communication team is a team of one and that we are not staffed 24 hours a day for such communications at this time.”

“Social media ... is a great avenue for effective communication to the masses,” Moore added. “However, some have the unrealistic expectation that communication should occur almost immediately.”

A scan of the town’s Facebook page showed mostly thank-yous from people glad to have their power back on. But a few posts on a page called “Citizens for the Advancement of Smithfield” chastised the town.

“It’s like they don’t realize the power goes out more than (in) any other town,” one commenter on that page wrote. “Beyond frustrating, I’ve kept track of how many times it has regularly gone out, and it’s shocking.”

Moore’s post suggested he had no problems with criticism. “I am a true believer that we should question the actions of government,” he wrote. “In my opinion, questioning is part of the checks and balances for those that are entrusted with our taxpayer dollars.”

But Moore also had advice for the town’s critics. “I would encourage all citizens to put your actions to work for the betterment of our entire town by getting involved and volunteering for a town committee or program,” he said. “I ask you to be productive and part of the solution, rather than complaining (usually on social media).”