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Sandy mutual aid experience underscored need for better planning


From the May 13, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published May 13, 2013

If Superstorm Sandy taught electric utilities anything, it’s that mutual aid response can be greatly improved moving forward, according to a recent article in Public Power magazine.

While lineworkers responded heroically in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, coordination behind the scenes betrayed disorganization and confusion. Restoring power came at the price of lineworkers sleeping in their trucks for days. Some arrived at the scene without proper attire to work under another utility’s rules. Advance preparation moving forward is a must, said Mike Hyland, APPA’s senior vice president of engineering services.

"In every storm we have, someone always gets hurt," Hyland said. "When you think of all of the challenges, it is amazing that more people aren't injured. However, the number is still too many."

Some of the lineworkers from the South had not worked in snow and were greeted by nearly three feet of it. They did not have snow boots or proper outerwear to work in the snow, Hyland said. Many had nowhere to sleep. Hotels were booked for miles surrounding the affected region. 

Instead, the workers called their utility trucks home. After they restored power in residential neighborhoods, some lineworkers report they were thanked with pizzas, others with cases of beer. But as heart-warming as it sounds, disaster relief is not always so. Things can go terribly wrong.

The aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina tarnished the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s reputation with scandal: mismanagement, poor preparation and extreme confusion surrounding government roles. Experts expect super storms to increase in frequency, but Sandy showed that challenges to seamless mutual aid still exist.

Read the full story in the article, "Doing the Mutual Aid Dance," and its sidebar, "Safety During Mutual Aid Work," on publicpower.org.

Subscriptions to the electronic and print editions of Public Power and all other APPA periodicals are free to all employees and governing board members of APPA member utilities and associate members. An online subscription signup form is on publicpower.org.

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