Utilities located along the Eastern-Atlantic region of the United States have weathered their share of storms and hurricanes. Standby crews are familiar with the devastation caused by high winds uprooting trees, twisting off utility poles and mangling overhead lines. Storm teams such as South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G; Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.) have learned valuable lessons about safety, efficiency and the necessary preparation for storm restoration when crews tackle the job of restoring power to hundreds of thousands of their own customers and to other utilities along the East Coast.

Hurricane Hugo

Hurricane Hugo left more than 300,000 customers out of service. During the restoration that occurred from September to October 1989, SCE&G faced a unique resource management burden when more than 48 contractors and utility companies of varying sizes and capabilities from 15 states were brought in to assist. The challenge of supporting out-of-area teams, knowing when to refuel vehicles, where crews were at any given time, as well as replenishing poles, crossarms and other operating supplies became a daunting task.

A Special Request

Early in the restoration effort, when additional outside resources were still being recruited, the idea was proposed to ask neighboring IOUs to come fully assembled as self-supporting groups. In addition to line crews, IOUs were asked to bring their own support personnel to handle vehicle maintenance, safety, material handling and communications. In some cases, they were asked to bring overhead line material. SCE&G would provide meals and lodging once the crews were on company property. This was a new concept for most IOUs.

As teams arrived, they were assigned to a distribution substation or circuit, or a geographic area, and given instructions to “sweep” their assigned area. This included replacing/repairing all damaged poles, transformers, primary and secondary conductor, and services. As the host utility, SCE&G put the necessary working clearances in place, and the teams went to work. The self-support concept worked surprisingly well. It took a huge load off SCE&G and allowed the teams to focus on repairing overhead lines and restoring service. Crews also observed increased safety associated with the tighter communications.

Organization Chart

Utilities in the coastal region never know when the next storm is going to hit. In the months following Hurricane Hugo, storm coordinators discussed the self-contained concept. Jim Young, then senior vice president at SCE&G, asked the coordinators to develop a proposal, which resulted in the organization chart that became known as a RESTORE Team.

Management agreed with the self-contained concept and RESTORE Teams were established. Each team contained approximately 65 members that consisted of a team leader, supervisors, technicians, linemen, fleet maintenance, communications, HR support, safety, materials handling and security personnel. Contract tree crews also were attached to each team. Job descriptions were defined, and appropriate vehicles and power-operated equipment were assigned according to the job tasks.

Andrew Tests Self Support

The first opportunity to prove the self-support concept did not come until August 1992, when Florida Power & Light (FPL) called after Hurricane Andrew made landfall. SCE&G RESTORE Teams were ready. By this time, a checklist of pre-trip considerations was drawn up containing a catalog of items to bring and things to check prior to deployment. In accordance with the standards set by the organization chart, checkoff sheets were universal, so every team was on the same page.

Again, the concept worked extremely well. Once a staging area was occupied, teams were assigned distribution circuits or a geographic area to sweep. FPL maintained contact with the RESTORE Team leaders who, in turn, oversaw all the RESTORE Team activities. The autonomous framework of each team receiving all support from within proved efficient beyond expectation in the midst of the challenging and relentless demand to restore power to homes and businesses.

Since 1992, SCE&G RESTORE Teams have made many trips to assist other power companies, including providing assistance in September and October 2003 to Progress Energy-Carolinas and Dominion-North Carolina during the Hurricane Isabel restoration.

SCG&E has found that when crew support comes from within, crews feel more comfortable compared to the uncertainty of depending on the host utility, which is already overburdened. When crews know and can perform their job with minimal surprises, they make fewer mistakes.

Adoption by Other IOUs

Interestingly, not much has changed with the organization chart or checklists. What has changed is the way neighboring IOUs are preparing for storm restoration. Tim Kessler, Dominion Virginia's storm preparedness lieutenant, has responded on more than 20 occasions, providing what he calls a “full-command control.”

“The ‘Great New York Ice Storm of 1998’ was one of the our first deployments. We sent three 50-plus person contingents,” said Kessler. Similar to SCE&G and other utilities, each of DVP's team has a point person and two logistics people who serve as the right hand to the point person, handling everything from lodging and laundry to materials assistance. Each team has a safety liaison, two garage mechanics and four or five field supervisors. Two scouts are in charge of setting up the work, determining ingress/egress and ferrying materials to keep line crews productive. Four two-person bucket teams and one auger/digger derrick also are assigned.

“The biggest benefit is the time and effort saved on the receiving end,” reports Larry Nunnery, Progress Energy's storm response specialist. “The way we used to do it, the receiving utility had to spend organizational time and valuable resources to support the outside crews before they could begin work. Now, they just assign them a substation or area and get out of the way.”

Materials and Supplies

Self-support teams usually obtain poles and cable reels through the Material Emergency Management System (MEMS) network among the various warehouse managers, which often travel by semi-load from area to area. Material coordinators try to determine what conductor sizes the receiving utility has before departure. Trucks are then stocked with automatic splices for this type of conductor. Teams also bring a good quantity of TPX service connections. In addition, contact is made with the requesting utility to see if it needs any hardware that the team could load and bring from its local warehouse.

“Each deployment is different,” says Kessler. “The typical pre-deployment questions we always ask are ‘What voltages of equipment will we be working on?’ and ‘What type of materials do you need us to bring?’”

Vehicle and Equipment Mix

Vehicle provisioning varies among utilities, depending on available and expected assignment. Progress typically assigns 14 material handlers, seven digger derricks and two service buckets to each team. Crew foremen are usually in pickup trucks, and engineers/scouts/damage assessors are in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Depending on the terrain, several ATVs are deployed for taking equipment to off-road locations. Each team has two or three pole trailers, and a small wire-pulling brake trailer also is used.

Nunnery says, “The requesting utility typically determines the bucket-auger ratio and will specify whether they want pole trailers brought or not, based on the type of damage they see (or foresee), and the capabilities of the other resources they are drawing from.” Dominion's point people drive SUVs, logistics personnel are in vans, and patrollers and scouts typically drive 4×4 pickup trucks.

SCE&G has continued to refine its RESTORE Team model by acquiring two mobile radio tower/repeater units, which further enhance each RESTORE Team's communications component. SCE&G also brings its own security group and often travels with a self-contained catering unit.

Ted A. Jeffcoat has been involved in restoration efforts for approximately 17 years. He is manager of Operations and Training for SCE&G, where he has been employed for 33 years. He also represents SCE&G on the Southeastern Electric Exchange Mutual Assistance Committee.

Pre-Trip Checklist for a Storm Team

  1. Availability and details of lodging and food at work locations.
  2. Availability of drinking water and ice at work location.
  3. Are pole/or cargo trailers needed?
  4. Does the requesting utility need any stock material or supplies transported?
  5. What are the requesting utility's common wire sizes (primary, secondary and service)?
  6. What are the pole line material needs that the storm team may need to bring?
  7. How many pole trailers does the requesting utility need?
  8. Weather forecast for the work location.
  9. Road and street conditions in and around the work location.
  10. Have staging areas been identified and locations mapped?
  11. Is any underground or speciality equipment needed?
  12. What is the anticipated duration of the mutual assistance effort?
  13. Are storm or information packages (circuit maps, street maps and emergency telephone numbers) available at the work location?
  14. Availability of emergency medical facilities near location.
  15. Availability of tires, vehicle and equipment parts, lubricants, gasoline and diesel fuel near work location.
  16. Copies of telephone numbers and 24-hour staffed points of contact.
  17. Is any type of transmission and/or substation assistance needed?
  18. If some type of mobile command/control center is included with a storm team, consider taking a generator to power it.
  19. Consider taking a fax/copier and laptop PC.

SCE&G RESTORE Teams Mobilization History

1992 Florida Power & Light (Hurricane Andrew)
1996 Georgia Power (Hurricane Opal)
1996 Progress Energy (Hurricane Fran)
1996 Dominion Virginia (Hurricane Fran)
1996 Progress Energy (Hurricane Bertha)
1996 Duke Energy (winter storm)
1999 Progress Energy (Hurricane Bonnie)
1999 S.C. Public Service Co. (Hurricane Bonnie)
2002 Duke Energy (winter storm)
2002 Progress Energy (winter storm)
2003 Progress Energy (Hurricane Isabel)
2003 Dominion NC (Hurricane Isabel)