Power to the People Sometimes Needs a Reset

My bedroom clock had failed.

I noticed it as I got up to use the bathroom in the wee hours of a recent morning. Well, I thought, I’ve had that clock since I bought it at a Crazy Days sale at Radio Shack when it was downtown. Guess I got my money’s worth.

But the clock had no power source, verified by the failed bathroom light. Power outage. Yes, we were in the midst of a “heavy snow event.” Power outages were mentioned as a concern by the weather prognosticators.

We expect a power outage or two in the summer due to the wind and rain of severe storms. But from my experience, winter outages are almost unknown. In fact, I don’t remember any. When I realized the power was out, I noticed how eerily silent it was. In our house we have some noise all the time. There are the fans for the furnace, the humidifier, the air exchanger and the radon fan. Then there’s the fridge and freezer.

I looked outside and it was dark up and down our street including the streetlights, save for what must have been a couple of battery-powered lights at one house. Maybe they had one of those generators you see on TV that we all need. With the storm maxing out while the temperature was right at the freezing mark, there is little doubt about the cause of the outage.

That got me wondering what we would do if it was -20 and no power. An outage can occur at any temperature, unfortunately. No power means no heat or air movement. Even a well insulated house can get cold in short order when it’s that cold with no heat source. I don’t think our gas fireplace would work either and I hope I don’t ever need to find out. Even if it did work, there would be no fan to move the warm air around. Fortunately, the power came back on soon enough that many people wouldn’t even know it had gone out.

Except for all the electric devices that needed attention.

Electric clocks certainly needed resetting unless they had a serviceable backup battery in them. Our internet/TV connections needed restarting. The coffeemaker was reset to some default settings. The humidifier was off and needed settings adjusted again. Several days after the outage I discovered two network printers were off when I tried to print a draft of this column.

The sound bars for two TVs needed to be powered on. It took some internet research to find the magic setting to fix one of them. Christmas lights on a timer came on several hours late. The clock on the water softener was off. The time on a bedside clock in a spare bedroom needed to be reset. Same with the microwave and stove clocks. Thankfully, many devices are now designed to retain settings during a power outage. And many clocks today are battery-powered and the time is set automatically by a radio signal.

How many times has a power outage required you to dig for the owner’s manual for a device that needs resetting? At some point you would be wise to have a note near the device with instructions how to reset it. Our coffeemaker is a good example. We learned quickly that settings we had gotten used to such as strength and how long to keep it warm are important. And, of course, it has its own clock that needs resetting.

Strangely, a separate outage occurred in the downtown area the next Sunday morning just an hour before our first church service was to begin. Luckily, power was back on when we arrived. Like the power outage at home, this one affected important devices including the internet service, phones and a printer. It even caused a fault in the fire alarm system, resulting in incessant beeping.

Getting the internet working again at the church required a couple calls to the internet service provider and locating the device to reset. The fix was actually to disconnect a failed backup battery, designed to keep the internet connection working during a power outage. But it does little good when the equipment that connects to it is down.

Now, as tedious as checking and resetting devices is, it doesn’t happen a lot around here. We aren’t in a war-torn country with inconsistent power service. We have reliable service where we live and can easily see if power is out in the neighborhood or just at my house.

I’m sure it’s a different story for those who live in the country where they might not be able to see a neighbor’s lights. That’s why they live there. But it also means they need to determine if an outage is widespread or just at their place. Everything out in the country seems to require electricity now so they are the ones who need (and likely already have) backup generators.

We rely more and more on electrical devices, many of which are not designed to handle power outages very well. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a control panel with a master button that resets everything to preconfigured settings? Or maybe all electrical devices should be required to reset themselves.

Better yet, maybe power just never fails.

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