A wild fire races through a small community outside Austin, Texas, torching homes, vehicles and power lines along its path. A mudslide ravages a canyon near Everett, Washington, destroying parts of a major highway and downing several miles of power lines. Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast of the United States, knocking out power from North Carolina to Maine and as far inland as Western Pennsylvania. Weather and nature are unstoppable forces, but the response to their fury is the same for all utility crews – power needs to be restored as rapidly as possible.
When there are large areas of downed lines, utilities call in help from surrounding states, whether independent contractors or crews from other utility companies. Having the extra crews will get the power back up more quickly, but will the outside crews have what they need to get the job done? How can you ensure the visiting crews have the right equipment and parts?
Most outside the utility industry assume the power grid is uniform across the United States; but we know nothing could be further from the truth. The technology on the East Coast, where electric power was first established in the late 1800s, is dramatically different from the West Coast and areas where power lines are just now being set. There is little or no standardization in voltages and the supplies needed to set up and connect lines differ from voltage to voltage.
The key to getting the lights turned on is to get the crews mobilized as quickly as possible with the right equipment and supplies, and emergency response kitting is one way to ensure everyone has what they need when they need it. The HD Supply Power Solutions team has taken the lead in ensuring utilities have exactly what’s needed in times of emergency.
“Each year, before storm season, we sit down with our customers and suppliers to discuss what would be needed in case of a large-scale emergency,” says Joe D’Orazio, Vice President of IOU Sales, East Region for HD Supply in Richmond, Virginia. “We go through a checklist of storm-critical supplies and make sure we have not only the primary items requested by the customer but also alternatives, which allows us to pull supplies from HD Supply branches around the country should the worst-case scenario play out.”
Once the materials arrive at the HD Supply warehouse, the emergency response kits are packaged and stored where they can be accessed quickly as an emergency hits. Additional supplies are also on hand to stock quick-response trailers that can be brought to areas where several crews are working to ensure no one runs out of what is needed.
The term “first responders” may mean firefighters, police and other emergency personnel, but each utility company should have their own team of first responders, says D’Orazio. Being able to coordinate with utilities in adjoining states, through advance planning, allows utilities to meet the need before, during and after the emergency, while being able to continually assess the situation and adapt as needed. By adding suppliers and contractors to that first-response team, no one is left in the dark as to what the needs are once the emergency hits and everyone can respond quickly, keeping the lines of communication open as the lines come down.
Getting the power turned back on is the top priority in any emergency situation, be it weather, fire, earthquake or other disaster. For utility companies, having an emergency plan in place and preparing early, before the emergency hits, means faster response times and getting the lights back on more quickly in an efficient, cost-effective way.
Visit PennEnergy's Transmission & Distribution topic center for more industry focused articles and reports