Safety, Storm, and Outage Response in a COVID-19 Environment

December 5, 2020

No Matter the Challenges, We Are Ready!

As we approach peak winter storm season, conversations about seasonal reliability have been amplified by the pandemic. And while this year hasn’t been normal by any means, Union Power has a strong track record of preparing for emergencies and maintaining an exceptional level of reliability. We continuously look for ways to improve so we can work efficiently and effectively to better serve our members.

Without regard to the pandemic, restoring power after a storm can be challenging for utility repair crews, in general, as travel and work conditions can be affected by high winds, fallen trees, and flooding. Now, in addition to addressing those standard concerns, our storm response plan has incorporated COVID-19-safe work practices and physical-distancing measures to balance the safety of our crews, members, and communities while still providing the level of service our members deserve.

Primarily, COVID-19 has forced major changes in our day-to-day operations, but we have taken proactive steps to ensure its stability and continuity since the beginning.

Limiting interactions between crews have been a big focus. All touchpoints have been reevaluated from staggering daily lineman shifts to implementing guidelines for the number of guys per truck, and scheduling fueling and yard pickups. Our linemen are taking every precaution to maintain social distancing best practices to ensure they remain safe, healthy, and capable of doing the essential work they’ve been called to do.

“We’ve been moving crews as a unit, so it’s well-documented where everyone is at all times. Because of this, crews maintain their assignments and they already have their equipment on their trucks ready to go,” shared Line Superintendent David Medlock. “This is the plan we put in place when COVID first started. It has helped us streamline our processes and also limit exposure risks.”

Additional considerations have been given to concerns raised about electric cooperatives dispatching visiting crews during major storms. When major storms occur, co-ops have always depended upon other co-ops in the network to help handle widespread outages. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed that— we just aren’t able to lean on each other in the same way we have in the past. Operations personnel began working on mutual aid relief approaches that addressed health and safety concerns when the pandemic started earlier this year. There have been numerous discussions about transportation, lodging, crew assignments, meal preparation and distribution, and increasing reliance upon crews from neighboring co-ops.

Having contractors on board also helps us work on necessary system reliability improvements and get an early jump on power restoration after any major storm.

Although we can’t completely prevent outages, advances in technology make our system more resilient and enable us to respond to storm impacts and restore power safely and more efficiently. The system, combined with our around-the-clock dispatch team and outage management system (OMS), improves service, accelerates outage notifications, and enhances preventative measures.

“We’re as prepared as we can be given the circumstances. No matter the challenges, our commitment to get the job done remains the same, and our ability to ‘answer the call’ is as strong as ever,” said Lonnie Kirkley, manager of operations. “We are dedicated to delivering safe, reliable, and affordable energy to our members day-to-day and during the more difficult times.”

A dedicated and competent workforce, comprehensive storm plan, resilient and smart technology integrated system, and cooperative partnerships go a long way toward helping us deliver on our promises now and always.