Del­marva Power’s proac­tive storm watch

Cecil Whig - - BUSINESS - By ED OKONOWICZ

Spe­cial to the Whig

What’s worse than sit­ting through a storm in a home with­out power? Be­ing the lineman out­side dur­ing the storm, try­ing to re­store power.

Anthony Pini, su­per­vi­sor of field ser­vices for Del­marva Power’s North­east Dis­trict, has been with the com­pany for 35 years. For three decades of his ca­reer, he worked as a lineman.

When asked to de­scribe what it’s like be­ing out­side in wicked weather, try­ing to get the lights back on, Pini said, “The big­gest thing is the dark­ness. The only light is com­ing from the one on your hard hat. And you go into a back­yard where you’ve never been be­fore. There are trees and wires down. Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the mag­ni­tude of the dam­age you can en­counter. The lineman has to be able to as­sess the situation safely.”

Pini said the out­age might be caused by a bro­ken util­ity pole that has been stand­ing there from the time the home or devel­op­ment was first built. But over the years trees may have grown around it, or the power pole was put in place be­fore the own­ers added a pool, or a shed, and maybe a swing set.

“Now,” Pini ex­plained, “you have to fig­ure out how to re­place it with a new 40 foot pole, weigh­ing 2,000 pounds, and get it into that back yard.”

Pini re­counted his ex­pe­ri­ences while sit­ting in Del­marva Power’s North­east Dis­trict head­quar­ters, lo­cated in an of­fice build­ing a short dis­tance off of Route 40, out­side North East. When dan­ger­ous weather threat­ens or sud­den emer­gen­cies oc­cur, a large con­fer­ence room serves as the power com­pany’s re­gional storm cen­ter head­quar­ters.

Har­ford and Ce­cil coun­ties are in Del­marva’s north­ern­most ser­vice area, and North East is one of Del­marva’s five dis­trict cen­ters. The oth­ers are lo­cated in Centreville and Sal­is­bury, Md., and Chris­tiana and Mills­boro, Del.

The con­fer­ence room is equipped with a mas­sive ta­ble, sev­eral large flatscreen TVs, and dozens of desk phones. When pow­er­re­lated dis­rup­tions oc­cur, the area is trans­formed into a Storm Room. From this weather war room, Del­marva staff co­or­di­nates lo­cal ef­forts to re­pair util­ity dam­age in or­der to re­store power.

In ad­di­tion to Pini, also at­tend­ing the “Ce­cil Af­ter Dark” in­ter­view were Ni­cholas Morici, Del­marva Me­dia Re­la­tions Man­ager; and Linda Bur­ris, Se­nior Pub­lic Af­fairs Man­ager and In­ci­dent Man­age­ment Team Man­ager in Storms.

Dur­ing se­vere storms, Bur­ris said, there can be close to 75 crewmem­bers work­ing on area power restora­tion; adding in tree crews and out­side con­trac­tors that num­ber can reach over 100.

Most peo­ple as­so­ci­ate power out­ages with fall­ing ice, pour­ing rain, tor­nado touch­downs, se­vere winds, and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing snow. Dur­ing his years as a lineman, Pini said, he’s ar­rived on the scene to find cars that have run into util­ity poles, or found fall­ing trees that have taken down power lines. He’s also seen dis­rup­tions caused by “a lot of un­usual stuff,” in­clud­ing squir­rels or snakes get­ting into trans­form­ers, and oc­ca­sional fail­ure of older equip­ment — de­spite the com­pany’s on­go­ing main­te­nance and equip­ment up­grades to im­prove re­li­a­bil­ity.

“Peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that a traf­fic ac­ci­dent on the side of a road, where a car hits a pole, can af­fect power users in an area, even on a clear and sunny day,” said Bur­ris.

She said her of­fice is a 24-hour-a-day op­er­a­tion, with staff mem­bers on call around the clock to re­spond to out­age alerts. Her North­east Dis­trict av­er­ages 10 to 15 out­ages a week, but when se­vere weather hits, that num­ber can in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly.

When­ever an out­age is re­ported, a “trou­ble man” is dis­patched to the scene, said Pini. This em­ployee eval­u­ates the situation and com­mu­ni­cates with the In­ci­dent Man­age­ment Team, back at the Storm Room, in­form­ing them of the sever­ity of the situation. To­gether they de­ter­mine how best to pro­ceed.

In re­cent years, Del­marva’s use of mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices, like iPads, has made a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment, Pini said. In the past he might have to travel to the out­age site to ex­am­ine the situation. Today, line­men on the scene are able to not only de­scribe the on-site situation, but also send pic­tures of the prob­lem to the Storm Room for eval­u­a­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing, thereby im­prov­ing re­sponse time.

“Some­times,” Bur­ris said, “our trou­ble man is the first per­son on the scene, even be­fore law en­force­ment and emer­gency first re­spon­ders ar­rive.”

The com­pany’s aim is to main­tain and re­store power as soon as pos­si­ble. But, through­out that process, Morici stressed, safety is para­mount.

When fore­cast­ers pre­dict se­vere weather, the Storm Room be­gins prepa­ra­tion.

“Usu­ally,” Bur­ris said, “we need to start our storm plan­ning 72 hours out.”

Del­marva Power is in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all lev­els, in­clud­ing state and lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and their re­spec­tive pub­lic works de­part­ments, and well as each county’s Of­fice of Emer­gency Man­age­ment, to man­age chang­ing sit­u­a­tions and ap­ply needed and avail­able re­sources.

Some­times, how­ever, dan­ger­ous con­di­tions oc­cur with­out warn­ing.

All three Del­marva man­agers vividly re­called last year’s sur­prise June 23 storm. Bur­ris said she saw a mass of pur­ple clouds like she had never seen be­fore, and “a wall of weather that came right at us.”

She said, she and Pini “Im­me­di­ately got a call out on our sys­tem, alert­ing line­men and ex­tra con­trac­tors, letting them know they might be needed.”

Luck­ily, for Ce­cil County, the im­pend­ing dis­as­ter missed the im­me­di­ate area. In­stead, it headed into Penn­syl­va­nia and, even­tu­ally, crossed into New Jersey, where it in­flicted tremen­dous dam­age.

The freak storm left 60,000 homes in Ch­ester County, Pa., and 175,000 cus­tomers in At­lantic City En­ergy’s New Jersey ser­vice area with­out power.

Lo­cal Del­marva crews trav­eled to New Jersey to as­sist with power restora­tion, said Morici, who added, “It was the worst weather since Hur­ri­cane Sandy. In some cases, we have no­tice, and in other cases they’re sud­den.”

Con­cern for our em­ploy­ees is also a ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion, said Bur­ris.

“We also want to alert our em­ploy­ees as early as pos­si­ble,” she said, “so they can make ar­range­ments with their fam­ily, since they may be away for an ex­tended pe­riod of time.”

Such early no­tice and on­go­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion, she said, en­ables storm re­spon­ders to work with a clear head, and have fewer ques­tions or con­cerns.

Ce­cil Af­ter Dark fo­cuses on ac­tiv­i­ties in the county that oc­cur be­tween sun­down and sun­rise, dur­ing the col­or­fully named “grave­yard shift.” If you have a sug­ges­tion for our con­sid­er­a­tion, send an email to CADWhig@ya­hoo.com.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DEL­MARVA POWER

A Del­marva Power lineman works to fix an out­age dur­ing a storm.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY ED OKONOWICZ

Del­marva Man­agers (from left) Anthony Pini, Linda Bur­ris and Ni­cholas Morici talk about the com­pany’s storm prepa­ra­tions.

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