Disaster Response and Mutual Aid
Community Engagement

Know thy role: Following the Mutual Aid Playbook in Albany, Ga.

On Jan. 2, the first of two consecutive major storms hit Albany, Georgia. The first knocked out nine of the utility's 12 substations — 40 percent of the utility's main circuits sustained some form of major damage. Straight-line winds surged up to 85 miles per hour, taking out power poles at the base. About 20,000 customers were without power.

Power was restored to most customers within the first five days of the storm, thanks to help from 280 lineworkers from surrounding public power utilities. But only 20 days later, the town was hit again. On Jan. 22, a tornado touched down in an estimated 1.5-mile-wide path that moved through Albany, Dougherty County and surrounding areas in Georgia. Five people were killed.

The tornado took out about 40 miles of power circuits and knocked out power to 3,500 customers within eight hours. Power was restored to most customers within four days but the storm destroyed infrastructure and about 300 homes which could not be reconnected until they were restored. Most power line damage could not be repaired — the utility had to install new wire and new poles.

(Damage from Jan. 2 storm)

"It was devastating," said Jon Beasley, director of training and safety for Electric Cities of Georgia and the region's mutual aid coordinator. "I sent guys who have been doing this for 20 to 30 years and they were saying it was the worst storm they've ever seen — and they've worked Katrina and Sandy. I went down there for just a few days and what I saw with so many trees being down was unbelievable."

With Beasley's help, utilities from Georgia and Florida sent about 400 lineworkers to Albany's aid to bring power back as quickly as possible after both storms. The community was happy to receive the lineworkers, said Monique Broughton Knight, marketing manager for utility administration in Albany. Residents threw a "pep rally" to cheer the visiting workers on. Still, some customers remained without power because their homes were completely destroyed while others later expressed confusion about their power bills. But Beasley said Albany did everything it was supposed to do in an emergency, starting with the Albany, Ga., utility operations manager Jimmy Norman's call to Beasley for help.

"With so many poles down, you could hardly get down the streets in Albany," Beasley said. "I just kept loading them up with crews. They did everything by the book."

Mike Hyland, senior vice president of engineering services for the American Public Power Association, agreed. "Everyone in the Albany effort knew their role and took the appropriate steps to bring the power back on," Hyland said. "And it never required a call to activate the national network."

Know thy role

There are three tiers of action in the American Public Power Association's Mutual Aid Playbook. In tier one, utilities activate their emergency operations or crisis center. In tier two, it is someone's job to reach out for help when the utility is overwhelmed — that was Norman's call to Beasley to ask for crews.

"In the case of Albany, the tornado was bad, they needed people from outside, they were in trouble," Hyland said. "The utility coordinator calling up to tier 2 is just one of many ways to get crews — he has his own crews and he also has contractors."

In addition to lineworkers, Albany had contractors from Asplundh and Trees Unlimited since the storm downed so many trees and power poles.

In tier three, the regional mutual aid coordinator may reach out to the Association for even more help, but Beasley never had to make that call.

"I didn't even have to make a phone call to Mike Hyland to get that started," he said. "If it got to the point where we needed more crews, we would activate the Mutual Aid Working Group. But it never reached that point — I had crews sitting on the ready."

(Damage from Jan. 2 storm)

Community care

Not only did Albany follow the Mutual Aid Playbook, but they also provided comfortable rooms and good food for the traveling lineworkers. Knight said the community had a lot of positive feedback for the lineworkers' assistance, and it showed.

"Many of the linemen told us they've never been treated so kindly before in any community," Knight said. "They had a pep rally for the linemen. It was amazing. And it was really just the community — they called the utility and said they wanted to do something for the folks who had gotten the power back up."

But even after the lineworkers left, caring for the community has continued. Albany does not have advanced metering infrastructure and the utility could not get meter readings for an estimated 2,000 customers. Per industry best practices, those customers received bill estimates and some received bill credits.

"We've tried to assist as much as we can," Knight said. "The community really rose to the occasion in this emergency and they really helped each other. It really did bring our community together. It's been a tough beginning of the year — you just don't anticipate these things happening and you try to do the best once they do. We're still running around and dealing with a lot of the storm's aftermath, utility bills included."

(Damage from Jan. 2 storm)