AIKEN, SC (ECSC) - At least 500 lineworkers have arrived in South Carolina or are on their way to assist electric cooperatives whose members may lose power during Hurricane Florence. Another 250 lineworkers from surrounding states are on standby.
Electric cooperatives' power distribution system at 75,000 miles of line, more than all other utilities in the state combined is spread over parts of all 46 counties. Their power restoration plans are designed to balance speed and safety as they restore power quickly.
"Of course, 'quick power restoration' can have different meanings with different people," said Todd Carter, vice president of loss control and training at the state association of electric cooperatives. "We know consumers want their power restored in a matter of hours, but with damage that a hurricane can cause, sometimes 'quickly' means a day or two or more."
Carter plays a serious game of line crew checkers or chess or both in the lead-up to and aftermath of any widespread weather event. He plans for the shortest travel time but avoids bringing vehicles through storm damage as they make their way to their assigned work place. The goal is to be able to start repair work immediately after the storm has passed when it is safe for workers to be in the field.
"This storm's track has made us toss one plan and almost start over in organizing hundreds of incoming lineworkers from all across the Southeast and beyond," said Carter. "When the storm seemed to be headed for North Carolina, we had some crews coming from Georgia. As the predicted track has moved down the coast toward Georgia, crews from North Carolina may be available."
In addition to Georgia and North Carolina, Carter has help coming from Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Mississippi. Crews from First Electric Cooperative departed Jacksonville, Ark., for the Palmetto State on Tuesday. Later, more help may come from Kentucky and Virginia.
Crews will be bringing bucket trucks, flex-track vehicles that operate well in wet locations and digger derricks for drilling pole holes. Crews from Missouri will arrive with their own fuel trucks to ensure they've got the fuel needed to work once they get here and in case fuel is less available in the damaged areas.
GETTING THERE CAN BE TOUGH
Hurricane Florence presents a double shot of complexity for restoration planners like Carter. Not only do the high winds of the storm cause damage to power systems, but the record-setting rainfall predicted from the slow-moving storm will create more hazardous working conditions.
Power service restoration is a very physical, labor-intensive job in the best of conditions. But, following a hurricane, right-of-way clearing crews sometimes must go in first to clear access to the damaged lines and equipment, so repair crews can get in to begin their part of the work.
"That's not unusual," said Carter. "With 75,000 miles of power line, you can be sure some of them are deep in the woods, sometimes in the swamp, and the effort to locate and then get to the damage can extend the repair time significantly."
When helicopters are used with circular saws to cut through trees from above flights are limited to times when winds are under 39 miles per hour. Even bucket trucks, used to lift line workers up to pole tops, cannot be manned in high winds.