Planning for Storm Work
The strength and magnitude of a storm should determine our methods to address it. But long before a significant event occurs, a plan to restore power safely should be made by the host company.
I learned during my early days as a supervisor that a storm evaluation and restoration plan is of great value to prepare everyone for “the big one.” Everyday storms and outages can be handled locally with a single point of command and control from the system operations center. However, when a stronger, more widespread storm occurs, local and area supervision may be a better and more organized method. The area control method with coordination through system controllers is safer for the field personnel working the storm. It reduces radio conversation with system operators, and it also allows operators to manage outages while knowing precisely who is working and their locations.
An Annual Event
At least once a year, management should conduct a planning session to ensure that the details – such as logistics for the materials and personnel involved – are taken care of. If mutual aid may be required, contracts and standby agreements with local hotels or work camp facilities should be made. Agreements should also be made with materials suppliers. Without a supply chain plan, restoration efforts are often extended beyond when customers expect their power to be restored. Additionally, staging areas, meals, laundry and all other considerations for mutual assistance teams should be planned in advance.
At the storm site, damage assessment teams should first evaluate just how bad the damage is, including the number of poles broken, the number of transformers damaged and the spans of conductor down. The host company should have predetermined, local laydown yards to limit traffic at headquarters. Mapping is critical. Crew waiting times will typically be reduced at staging areas when printed and/or electronic maps are made available and when a method has been established to instantly report findings as assessments occur.
Many companies use a storm center during restoration efforts. Working from that storm center, the host company should assign personnel to manage public service announcements for the local customer notification systems; this will help to reduce the number of calls from customers and news agencies seeking information. Assign other staff to oversee the process of seeking mutual assistance as the level of required outside resources is identified. Another staff member should manage materials requests and usage, and they should maintain a list of suppliers that can keep crews supplied. Know the locations of the laydown yards and have materials delivered directly to crew locations, not to headquarters. Asset and supply chain management are always a challenge; the number and types of materials will never be predictable, but agreements with local vendors not affected by the storm will likely be advantageous. However, without planning and agreements in place, I have seen crews salvaging bolts and hardware from damaged facilities to reuse during service restoration.
Keeping crews close to the affected areas – whether in work camps or hotels – will reduce travel times. Crews are ready to work when they arrive from out of town; making them wait in staging areas for their marching orders due to a lack of planning is not ideal. Many times, an advance team expedites the work process. The advance team arrives before the crew gets to the staging area, meets with the host company for the safety briefing, and receives the system characteristics and work locations. Local employees should act as guides for out-of-town assistance teams unfamiliar with the area. With well-laid-out plans and appropriate support, crews may be able to travel straight to their work areas rather than to the staging area, which is almost always crowded and often confusing. Keep in mind that security at the staging area is needed to ensure that vehicles are not tampered with. On a related note, proper staging and placement of vehicles, plus fueling vehicles at night while crews are on rest breaks, help to speed up restoration efforts.
Field leadership should work with their system operations and area supervisors to restore power after a storm as quickly and safely as possible. There are many different methods and processes for planning purposes. Many in the industry believe the basics should be transmission, substation feeders, single-phase and, lastly, isolated services. It only sometimes works that way based on local conditions, critical customers and other factors. The many storms I worked as a crew supervisor and as an area supervisor were similar. Distribution crews should be assigned to a circuit, begin at a substation, establish a clearance, and repair everything on the three-phase circuit to the first set of switches. Then, establish another clearance point, ride the lines and identify all the issues if the damage assessment team is unavailable. If the damage assessment team is available, verify the information they provide. Sometimes there are no switches to open. Jumpers may have to be cut to establish an endpoint for the day and a clearance point for the continuing work. Depending on the resources available, single-phase taps may or may not be repaired as three-phase is picked up. The number and criticality of customers will help determine that direction. Hospitals, 911 call centers, and water treatment and sewage lift stations are often the first facilities to be restored. Two-person service trucks may be sent with larger line crews to work in front of or behind the crews, attaching the services as the crews restore power. A fleet mechanic crew may be part of each storm team to make repairs to vehicles; flat tires in particular are always an issue during storm restoration efforts. Also, a tree crew should be sent with each storm team to clear trees – and sometimes roads – so that crews can access the trouble locations. Tree crews should never be left alone without a proper clearance and system grounds for their protection. If they are qualified tree trimmers under OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2), they should understand step and touch hazards while clearing trees; personal protective equipment; traffic control; lockout/tagout clearances; and system protection grounding. If they are not qualified, they should be escorted by a 1910.269(a)(2) qualified worker.
Safety for the Storm Team
The safety of all storm team employees should drive the organization and management of the restoration effort. There will be many opportunities for injury during restoration. Tree removal and the felling of trees; improperly connected, temporary customer-owned generation (e.g., solar panels, wind generators, battery storage units); traffic; and curiosity seekers represent challenges to the provision of a safe working environment. Job briefings are a primary tool to help identify all hazards on a job site and select the appropriate safe work procedures. Don’t forget the special considerations for each job and the control of all energy, not just electrical.
Work hours should be limited to prevent exhaustion. The longer the storm work continues, the more likely it is that an incident could occur. OSHA now requires crews to work either as one team with complex lockout/tagout procedures on the same circuit or as if they are the only ones on the circuit. The work is always hazardous, but it becomes dangerous when rules and regulations are not followed.
Lastly, many accidents have occurred on the drive home after the storm restoration work is complete. A proper rest period should be given to all personnel before they attempt a long drive. Leadership must consider this plus all the other items mentioned in this article to protect employees during storm work.
About the Author: Danny Raines, CUSP, is an author, an OSHA-authorized trainer, and a transmission and distribution safety consultant who retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and operated Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC for nearly 15 years.
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