Pingdom has been digging up some unusual causes of power and connectivity outages, including incidents involving a raccoon, cable thieves and random gunfire. While the New Year's Eve raccoon incident may seem unusual to some, you'd be amazed at how many power outages are caused by small furry critters. In most cases, however, it is squirrels rather than raccoons that provide the largest headache for power companies.
If you enter "squirrel outage" in either Google News or Google web search, you'll find a lengthy record of both recent and historic incidents of squirrels causing local power outages. Those with long memories of bizarre utility outage stories may recall that this issue made the front page of the Wall Street Journal in 2003. The story is in the Journal archives, but there's a copy online at CritterGuard, one of the companies mentioned in the article. The business angle was a surge in anti-squirrel technology, which is a tricky business, as the story relates:
Linemen are so fed up with the animals, they "even yell at me when I slow down to let a squirrel go across the road," says David Schmidt, a manager at Celina Utilities, a municipal power system in Celina, Ohio. Many utilities say trapping squirrels is too expensive. Shooting them is costly and in many places restricted. Immigration will quickly repopulate an area where squirrel numbers have been reduced drastically.
When it comes to telecom and fiber, the most pernicious threat is often the backhoe. Back in 2006 Kevin Poulsen at Wired did a comprehensive story on backhoe-driven outages, noting that construction equipment remains the "ultimate denial of service tool."