When Hurricane Hermine made landfall in the Tallahassee area of Florida on Friday, it did what big weather events often do: create havoc, which in this case knocked out the power to more than 100,000 homes. A Category 1 storm, its winds were clocked at 80 miles per hour, says the National Hurricane Center — an event that has also hit the Carolina’s and may potentially move as far north as New Jersey.
Just how to utilities respond to weather events like hurricanes? With the same gusto that they do other events, all with an eye to restoring power as soon as humanly possible and without putting the lives of workers at risk.
The corporate structure collapses to facilitate decision making. Power is then shifted to a centralized disaster-response team whom is given the authority to carry out the utility’s mission. As such, “war rooms” form and meetings begin with key personnel. Together, the group decides whether resources will be deployed and if so, where and to what extent.
As with most such events, reserve lineman are culled from the ranks of other utilities, as well as from contracting firms. Vendors are phoned, which ensure that all necessary parts and equipment are in place. Decisions are being made as to how to allocate that material and all human resources up until the moment of impact. Then it becomes a process of continually communicating the logistical strategy.
Most companies rehearse their disaster-mitigation procedures. But the real lessons are learned in the heat of the battle. Plans would not work without broad cooperation. It is one thing for a company’s management to prepare an emergency-response plan and it is another for them to execute it. All employees set aside their daily routines and perform necessary functions while the utility is in duress.
“Repetition is the key to success in mass communications and it is certainly so when there is confusion, uncertainty and fear on the public’s part,” says Art Wiese, who spoke to this reporter before he passed away. Wiese had been a former journalist and media specialist for Entergy during Hurricane Katrina, and been based in New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina was the worst of them all for Entergy, knocking out four times as many customers as any storm prior to it. In all, 3,000 miles of transmission service went out while 30,000 miles of distribution lines suffered and 263 substations malfunctioned.
The utilities’ job goes on — even after the disaster passes and every customer has power. The next step is lessons learned — a painstaking process to evaluate performance, all so that those companies can improve the next time around.