Delmarva Power’s proactive storm watch
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.
A Delmarva Power lineman works to fix an outage during a storm.
Delmarva Managers (from left) Anthony Pini, Linda Burris and Nicholas Morici talk about the company’s storm preparations.