Please describe your activities in the southern U.S. in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
On August 31, 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, we had 74 people with a combination of 35 digger and bucket trucks leave southern Indiana. We worked about 16 hours each day in Alabama and Mississippi. In one system, there were approximately 30,000 broken poles. Everywhere we went there was a tremendous amount of damage.
As Hurricane Rita approached the Gulf Coast we headed back to Indiana. A week later we received a call for help from the Louisiana Statewide Association of Rural Electrical Cooperatives. This time we went to Cameron, LA. The destruction was unbelievable. All homes and businesses, schools and hospitals were destroyed. Substations were gone. The Indiana crews, along with crews from other states, rebuilt about 450 transmission structures. We all lived in a Tent City where there were about 150 linemen in each of four circus tents. The site also had a mess tent, portable shower facility and a laundry. We worked there for about a month and returned to Indiana on about November 10, 2005.
How can utilities best prepare their safety/risk professionals for disaster recovery operations at home and in other regions of the country?
I don't know if it's completely possible to prepare for what we encountered this past summer. What we do as safety risk professionals is prepare emergency disaster and restoration plans and, when replying to a call for help, we determine the needs and plan our response.
One of the things we make sure to do is inform our employees as to where they are going and try to give them an approximate time they will be needed. This is very important when responding to systems out of state. We also try to ensure that we have plenty of foremen to help supervise our crews. This year we took crews that had worked after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 so they could help educate the newer personnel that hadn't experienced what we had been through previously.
Another thing we do is ask questions before we depart. We request conductor sizes, voltage levels, type of terrain features. We also ask if there is any extra material we need to bring to help offset shortages such as wire sleeves or line material. We try to send a balance of equipment so we have a mix of digger and bucket trucks as well as wire and pole trailers. All of our linemen also take an extra pair of rubber gloves, and we all carry two-way radios and walkie-talkies for communication. These are priceless when installing grounds or lifting sagging wire.
What special training do crews require?
Our linemen don't need any special training. Our apprenticeship programs are registered with the Department of Labor and Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training. Each apprentice completes 8,000 hours of on-the-job training as well as 600 hours of classroom instruction in four years. Upon completion of the apprenticeship requirements each lineman receives an Associate Degree of Applied Science from Ivy Tech.
What were some of the unforeseen obstacles in minimizing risk during this disaster and how did you address them?
After working on recovery after three hurricanes in a half dozen systems, we've learned quite a bit to help minimize risk. We do not take anything for granted. Most essential and important is communications. We realize that each system has its own way of performing work so we emphasize to our crews that we must perform construction to meet their criteria. We also emphasize safety. For example, we install grounds, utilize lockout-tagout procedures, ensure proper traffic control and only energize lines with proper authority from qualified system employees. Everything we do has to comply with OSHA standards and written established safety rules. There are no exceptions.
How can local utilities facilitate the efforts of outside crews?
Most of the systems did a very good job of providing us with whatever we needed, including hotels or tents and meals, as well as fuel and maintenance support. There were even barbers and medical assistance if needed.
What challenges with respect to safety and operations do you face in these mutual aid situations?
Safety has to be addressed by everyone. Communications was always a concern but we worked as a team and with representatives from each system. We followed their advice to address any serious safety concerns. Daily safety meetings were conducted as well, where all of our questions were answered.
What lessons did you learn from this disaster recovery effort that can be applied in the future?
One thing we learned was to address logistics issues before leaving. Our department's assistant, Connie Sparks, provided us with a tremendous amount of information from the Internet on fuel stops, hotels, and restaurants suitable for 75 people. We also planned fuel stops knowing that some trucks were limited to 200 miles per tank. In addition, each truck had a packet of important information with names, truck numbers, cell phone number and maps. While all of this information was vital, the biggest thing we learned was to have patience. All of us rushed to get there and help only to find that hurrying was not going to get things done any faster.
How was the morale of your crews affected by the devastation they witnessed and the conditions in which they had to operate?
I don't think morale was ever an issue. For the first few days we were in a hotel that didn't have any running water so we had to bathe with bottled water. There was no roof on the building but we had shelter and security and air conditioning for sleeping. But the destruction we witnessed was catastrophic. Everywhere we worked poles and lines were down and homes were destroyed. Many subdivisions were wiped out from water and wind. We quickly realized how badly everyone in the area was suffering so we felt lucky to have what we did. Some of our people came up to me with tears in their eyes. We all knew we would eventually get to go back home, while most of the people we were trying to help had lost everything. ip