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Colorado utilities collaborate to restore power to flood-stricken communities


From the March 11, 2014 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published March 11, 2014

By Fallon Forbush
Communications Assistant

Fort Collins Public Utilities and the Estes Park Light and Power Department in Colorado came together to restore power to more than 350 customers in and around the nearby town of Glen Haven after devastating flooding hit the region last September.

A Glen Haven Fire Department captain gets ready to head out to the outlying areas of the town to check on the welfare of some of the residents. Photo: Patsy Lynch/FEMA

Glen Haven is an unincorporated community in Larimer County that receives electricity service from surrounding utilities, including Estes Park.

Over four weeks, lineworkers and other town employees spent more than 1,200 man-hours to help repair more than seven miles of power lines and more than 130 power poles.

The first responders had to repair the roads in order to even access many of the areas where they restored power, said Travis Walker, Fort Collins’s supervisory crew chief.

"The existing positive relationship between the three cities was instrumental in the four-week recovery effort, which was initially expected to last several months," said Tom Rock, Fort Collins’s electric field service manager.

Fort Collins Line Crew Chief Joel Cirillo used a hand-held, high-definition camera to capture the restoration efforts on Oct. 8, 2013. The footage is posted on Fort Collins’s website.

Members of a FEMA search-and-rescue team work their way across a river to a home, using poles to help find hazards in the water as they cross. Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA

The city of Longmont, Colo., also experienced damage from the flooding, including washed-out bridges and destroyed trails. A video on the city’s YouTube channel details the damage caused by the flood waters.

Approximately 6,000 out of 37,000 Longmont customers experienced power outages, and 2,000 customers were without power for longer than two days because of high waters and hazardous conditions, said Deborah Cameron, Longmont’s spokesperson.

"What took the city of Longmont 20 years to build, mother nature destroyed in one day," said Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s public works and natural resources director. He estimates the damages to Longmont’s infrastructure at $148 million. Damages to the electric utility alone totaled $840,000.

Lineworkers are helicoptered to the top of a ridge to install a temporary line to a substation east of Glen Haven. Photo courtesy of Fort Collins Utilities


"The stories that I’ve heard in here ... about the sacrifices individuals have made, about the sense of community, about how people pull together, is pretty amazing, but not at all surprising," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech in Greeley, Colo., after touring flooded areas.

Linemen ended up being the most visible staff in the field, said Reuben Bergsten, Estes Park Light and Power utilities director. "How they handled citizens represents not just public power, but the government as a whole," he said. "Our linemen presented themselves professionally and with compassion. That separates us from many investor-owned companies. We are part of the community and our linemen treat our customers like neighbors, not a profit center."

Crews that were eager to help customers in Longmont faced challenges getting to the affected areas, Cameron said. "In many cases once flooding subsided, work in some areas had to wait even longer for road repairs that allowed access," she said.

Longmont also had to rely on other methods to communicate with its community during the severe weather event. The city’s webpage, which was usually the preferred medium to communicate with customers, quickly became overwhelmed during the flooding, Cameron said. In response, the city put in place a separate website on another server, which crashed after only 24 hours because of the continuous surge of traffic.

"Social media was the city’s saving grace when the website crashed," Cameron said. During the day, three to five city employees worked on the city’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to respond to inquiries, with one to two employees communicating overnight.

Mark Smith, Fort Collins line crew chief, looks down at the Glen Haven flooding during a fly-over. Photo courtesy of Fort Collins Utilities

Advance planning to respond to system events is invaluable, Cameron said. "It is important to know how you’re going to deploy staffing and infrastructure, monitor activities and schedule crews and manage other logistics," she said. "This allows you to respond to customers more effectively, and manage operations more safely during an event."

"We have a mutual aid contract in place with the surrounding utilities, as well as with APPA," Cameron said.

Walker, the crew chief in Fort Collins, also stressed the importance of having a mutual aid agreement in place and up-to-date before an event occurs. "With all of the legal, safety and payment considerations, an agreement is imperative before any aid can be rendered," he said.

After salvaging and cleaning old photos, Longmont residents hung them up so they could dry on all sides. Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA


"Having existing relationships with personnel and familiarity with the terrain and system was invaluable," said Bergsten, the utility director in Estes Park. "It may seem a technicality, but having mutual aid agreements in place is what FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and insurance companies will be looking for when the money discussion starts," he said.

Information about APPA’s mutual aid efforts can be found at www.PublicPower.org/MutualAid.

 

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