High winds toppled transmission towers and cast debris like shrapnel into a utility's substation during a Memphis tornado last year. In the wake of $4 million of damage, linemen sprung to action to restore power to the 64,000 customers who had lost it during the storm.
A year-and-a-half later, Memphis Light, Gas and Water's (MLGW) manager of electric substation and operations reflects on the damage caused by the series of tornados in the article on page 64J.
“To me, it is amazing that electric service to the customers was restored in just five days,” Russell said. “In my book, MLGW and the employees deserve an A for that test given by Mother Nature. With that being said, I hope she doesn't decide to test us again anytime soon.”
Utilities nationwide have battled their share of hurricanes, tornados, ice storms and floods. Rather than waiting for disaster to strike, companies often have a set strategy in place to effectively respond to any emergency. For instance, the New York State Public Service Commission requires each electric corporation to submit an electric emergency plan and update it frequently. This plan must include contact information for hospitals, law enforcement agencies, the media, local motels and university dormitories, contractors and vendors.
Today's top companies also have a tried-and-true strategy of how to dispatch line crews and how to keep them safe while working long hours in miserable conditions. Before linemen even arrive at the main office, maintenance crews often have their line trucks inspected, warmed up, stocked with supplies and ready to go.
Oftentimes, utilities also have a list of personnel who are designated to respond to an emergency situation. In the case of the Memphis tornado, MLGW learned that it's best to assign a foreman or crew leader to lead the emergency-response team and also to make it clear who is in charge at the staff meetings. Also, MLGW discovered that it is best not to send a large group of employees to a site until problems have been evaluated and prioritized, and the area has been deemed safe.
Another vital component of a utility's storm-response plan is to conduct annual storm drills. That way, companies can ensure that everything will run smoothly in the event of an actual natural disaster.
The New York State Public Commission requires utility crews to conduct the training exercises once a year to test the effectiveness of assigned personnel in implementing service restoration procedures in the wake of a severe storm. These drills must involve outside agencies and local governments, and must simulate the involvement of a majority of a utility's T&D customers, according to its online rules and regulations.
It's vital for companies to conduct training sessions and have a written plan in place, so when disaster strikes, linemen are ready to handle anything that Mother Nature hurls at them. For many linemen, working storms is one of the most rewarding and memorable parts of their jobs. While it is often challenging for them to leave their families for days or weeks at a time, they thrive on the ability to help others in need.
Over the last few years, I've enjoyed hearing stories from linemen about their most memorable storm moments. In some cases, these linemen have traveled for thousands of miles to restore power to faraway states, while other times, the destruction happens in their own backyard.
When linemen work a storm, they often meet other linemen from across the country. While they may be working for competing companies, all the barriers crash down when they are working long hours side by side. Rather than being an employee for a utility company, they are all linemen working for a common goal — to restore power.
To thank them for their service, homeowners often stand in their front yards and applaud the linemen or scour their shelves for snacks to give out to the line crews. After linemen have wrapped up their repair work, packed up their trucks and prepared for the long drive home, they often think about these homeowners. Oftentimes, they've lost nearly everything, but they still have the power and strength to go on. By helping to restore power to them, linemen help them to get off to a fresh start and live a normal life again.
By being committed to those in need and carefully following their companies' emergency-response plans, linemen can restore power to their customers quickly, efficiently and safely. Working storms is often exhausting, exhilarating and rewarding work for many linemen, and by being prepared through advanced planning, they can stay out of harm's way.