Tampa considering options to prevent any future power outages from squirrels and surges

TAMPA, Fla. - Squirrels are everywhere, all the time, and typically go unnoticed. That is, until one compromises an entire city's water supply by chewing through a single power line.

"Those are things we will always live around," sid TECO spokesperson Cheri Jacobs.

According to Jacobs, squirrels, trees, and weather are the top agents of power outages worldwide, like the one caused by a rodent chewing through a power line in Tampa on Friday morning.

It suffered a 13,000 volt shock and it's body has yet to be recovered, so no one is actually sure what type of rodent caused the problem.

Still, Jacobs says a rodent on its own isn't enough to cut off power to a water treatment plant like what happened last week because there's a back-up power supply.

However, in a separate unrelated event the same day, one power line sagged so low it touched another line and fried the back up supply. This potential technological glitch is the preventable part.

The squirrel's teeth are not.

"One or the other event by itself would've been fine, but it was the combination of events that created this perfect storm," Jacobs said.

Ralph Fehr, USF Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineeering, says outages are growing more common with an aging power infrastructure.

"We do need to put some emphasis on the power infrastructure. It's been there a long time. It's served us well, but it is getting older," Fehr said. "It's something we take for granted. When it works the way it should work, we don't even know it's there. It's only when it disappears that we have a problem."

The city of Tampa plans to begin working with TECO immediately to look at ways to update the system in order to prevent a similar issue. One option is grounding certain power supplies that feed important facilities like water treatment plants or hospitals.

That would cost tens of thousands of dollars, but the city is still considering it.

Restaurants and other businesses which rely on water are happy to hear that.

"It was crazy. It was a nightmare," explained Laura Backsman.

Backsman and the crew at Daily Eats served 45 gallons of coffee Saturday using filtered water.

Other restaurants completely closed down.

"That's a big system that runs our town, and if one squirrel can just go and corrupt it that quick, that's kind of scary," explained Daily Eats owner Raymond Menedez.
 

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