The first thing you need to know about Catie Plante is contained in the first four letters of her last name. As if divined by birth, this is a young woman with a P-L-A-N.
For Plante, a project manager and emergency coordination specialists at Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P), planning and executing plans has been part of her DNA since childhood. She was introduced to the utility business as a young girl, tagging along with her father, a transmission project manager at Public Service New Hampshire (PSNH), as he would inspect transmission lines and visit substations. “I loved what he did,” Plante recalls. “I knew right away I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
She wasted no time in doing so, enrolling in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in civil engineering. Her experience in the business began with a transmission maintenance internship at PSNH. Plante spent her first two college summers hiking the woods of New Hampshire, inspecting lines, and observing planning and construction. She spent her senior year of college interning in the Albany, New York area.
Coming out of college, Plante knew she wanted to be in transmission project management, but she felt working at PSNH while her father was still there might constitute a conflict of interest. So she joined another of the Northeast Utilities family of companies, CL&P. She started in the transmission systems planning group, which she notes was staffed with electrical engineers who were experts on network planning and reliability but not as familiar with civil engineering constraints such as terrain, climate and pre-existing structures. Plante characterizes her time with this group as a bidirectional learning experience: she learned about network design from within a utility, while other group members gained from her background in civil engineering and familiarity with the geographic and demographic characteristics of CL&P's service territory.
Plante spent a year and a half with the transmission planning group, followed by a year as a civil engineer designing structures for substations and specializing in culvert designs and engineering. “I like the dirt and steel, something you can wrap your arms around,” she notes.
Her next role was as a transmission project manager. And in June, Plante joined CL&P's emergency preparedness group. The combination and experience of all her CL&P roles came into play in a major way in early November, Plante notes, when Superstorm Sandy slammed the Connecticut coast.
In the weeks leading up to the storm, weather reports gave Plante and her emergency preparedness colleagues a fairly accurate picture that Sandy would land between New Jersey and New England, so CL&P knew it was in the bull's-eye, so to speak. The company was able to do pre-landfall assessments and, in particular, line up help ahead of time for what would surely be major outages. “We really wanted to make sure we had all hands on deck,” says the consummate planner Plante. “And we did. We had updated maps and plans for communications. That is so important, because when the power goes out, you also lose communications networks.”
Once the storm hit, CL&P's most important charge was to assess emergency or 911 situations, addressing first and foremost any life-threatening conditions or outages. CL&P restored power to an estimated 800,000 customers throughout the restoration process following the storm, with many of the outages due to costal flooding. The next task was to clear roads so emergency vehicles could pass and crews could get in to restore power. It felt like the entire company, she says, worked 16-plus-hour days for at least a week straight, but in the end, it was able to restore power to large majority of its customers within days. “We learned a lot from previous storms, too,” Plante adds, citing in particular Hurricane Irene, which hit the East Coast in 2011.
Among the more interesting notes to Superstorm Sandy, Plante observes, is that it hit exactly during a full moon, meaning tides were as high as they could possibly be, leading to increased flooding. One of the more memorable crises of the storm was when CL&P learned that a backup generator had caught fire at a high-security women's prison in the southern part of the state. “At first, we had to evaluate whether to try to get a new generator there, or try to restore the circuit,” Plante says.
With weeks of long work days now behind her, Plante is turning to her next series of plans, which is to compete in a couple more half marathons this year. Last year, she trained for and competed in her first full marathon, an experience she likens to emergency preparedness planning. “You have to make a plan and execute it,” she exudes. “You can probably tell I would like that.” She also plans to participate in the Ragnar Relay from Logan to Park City, Utah, in June. It's a 192-mile (309-km) run in which 12 runners per team have to plan out their overnight trek through Utah's canyons and mountains.
Sounds pretty much perfect for Catie Plante.