By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsNovember 26, 2019
Less than a month after successfully testing the resilience of Fort Knox's energy resources by unplugging from Louisville Gas & Electric, officials at the Directorate of Public Works encountered an actual power outage.
Fort Knox has circuits that feed from LG&E to the installation. At 4 a.m. Nov. 18, one of the circuits failed, creating a power outage at in the northeast section of post, mainly where training ranges are located.
"Geographically, it was a lot, though it did spare much of the cantonment area," said Pat Walsh, director of Fort Knox's DPW. "[U.S. Army Human Resources Command] is completely backed up by generators, so they were good to go because their emergency generators start up immediately."
The time it took to get the power back up and running was roughly an hour. Walsh said their after-hour operations plans had something to do with this, though few people knew of it because of the time it happened, and because the areas have large Energy Resilience project diesel generators built in to provide backup energy.
"These generators do not come up automatically due to safety considerations, but they do greatly reduce the amount of time affected areas are without power," said Walsh.
As an example, he explained that a motorist could have crashed into a power pole with downed lines lying across the vehicle. Automatically flipping the power back on without first inspecting the cause of the outage could get somebody badly hurt or killed.
"You don't want to energize that circuit because it could electrocute somebody. That's why before we start those generators we have to make sure nobody is in harm's way."
Walsh said the ability to reroute power is akin to what engineers do on railroad tracks. Energy engineers can open and close key switches to halt power in one circuit and shift it to another, assuming they can find the cause of the outage.
Engineers checked the line but didn't find anything wrong.
"Sometimes they think it's just an aberration, so they'll put that line back in use," said Walsh. "The next day, in this case, the line tripped back out."
Walsh said the second outage happened at 3 p.m. on Nov. 19, coinciding with a meeting he and other DPW engineers were having with LG&E staff and engineers from Nolin RECC.
"Nolin RECC and LG&E got an alert that the circuit went down again, right when we were talking about that circuit," said Walsh. "It's a little bit of irony there, but we had the right people there to jump on it right when it happened.
"We got our generators started up in about 20 minutes and had power restored to the area."
Engineers have been busy since, locating the problem and working to repair it. The reason nobody knows about this, according to Walsh, is because power was first rerouted through other circuits so LG&E could work on the faulty circuit.
"They have back-fed those substations from the one circuit that they were having problems with, so the circuit right now is dead," said Walsh. "They're going to be repairing the problem and once they get it done, they'll bring the circuit back online."
An area of post where the main Exchange and commissary are located suffered a power outage about a week prior to the LG&E outages. Walsh explained that that outage was actually an internal issue.
"It was because our circuit went down, so we had to do the same thing LG&E did," said Walsh. "We have to ride that circuit and see if we can find a problem to fix the problem. Sometimes it's a squirrel in a transformer, but starting generators in that case will do nothing for the circuit because the circuit is out and the substation already has power."
Walsh said one big concern that DPW shares with the Directorate of Emergency Services during outages is traffic.
"Traffic lights go dark during a power outage until the generators can be brought up," said Walsh.
Because of this potential safety and congestion issue, a contract has been awarded to install uninterruptable power to traffic lights at major intersections that will keep them functioning until power can be restored. Work is expected to be completed by January 2020.
"I'm happy because the Energy Resilience system worked as designed," said Walsh, "and we're going to take a look at the after-hours response and see if there's any way we can shorten that flash-to-bang time."