Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

NEPPA lends a hand to Vermont co-op, N.H. public power town

In a recent interview with the American Public Power Association, Nick Lawler, general manager of Massachusetts-based public power utility Littleton Electric Light and Water Departments, detailed how the Northeast Public Power Association mutual aid network kicked into gear in late November to assist a public power town in New Hampshire and a Vermont cooperative after they were hit by wind and snow.

The requests for help came from the town of Ashland, N.H., and the Washington Electric Co-Op, which is based in East Montpelier, Vermont.

In the interview, Lawler noted that the public power utilities that are part of NEPPA have all signed a mutual assistance agreement, which outlines “how we’re going to help each other and how we’re going to reimburse utilities” for related activities.

NEPPA was founded in 1965 to represent and serve consumer-owned utilities of New England. NEPPA is governed by an elected Board of Directors comprised of 21 public power officials representing member utilities in all six New England states.

Lawler noted that NEPPA breaks out New England into five separate regions and each region has a primary and backup coordinator. Lawler serves as a coordinator for one of the regions and also serves as chair of the NEPPA Mutual Aid Committee.

Ashland was hit by wind and heavy snow last month that impacted the town, Lawler noted. “They called me about 4, 4:30 in the morning” on Tuesday, Nov. 27, which resulted in Lawler’s sending out a mutual aid message.

“We use a computer system, a software system, that blasts out a message to a database that we have,” Lawler noted.

Ashland only needed three crews, he said. In response to the request for help, Lawler looked to provide the most localized level of support as possible. By 6:30 in the morning, there were three crews and a supervisor on the way to New Hampshire, he said.

The assisting utilities were Littleton Electric Light Department, Middleton Municipal Electric Department and Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department. Like Littleton, Middleton and Wakefield are based in Massachusetts.

The crews worked in Ashland on Tuesday, Nov. 27 and Wednesday, Nov. 28 and they were about to be released on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 29, when Lawler received a call from a different NEPPA coordinator who was looking for help for the Washington Electric Co-Op.

“So it happened to work out that I was just about to release those crews from Ashland to return home and I was able to slide them over to the co-op to assist there,” Lawler said in the interview.

If those crews had still been working in Ashland or were already on their way home, Lawler would have sent out another message and “would have been able to get help without a problem,” he said.

“It was quicker to be able to send those guys because they were already geared up,” Lawler pointed out.

When asked to describe the type of work the crews did, Lawler said that in Ashland there was a lot of wire down. “They had a lot of trees to clear from downed power lines,” he said.

“Vermont was similar. They had a lot more snow up there. When the coordinator called me he asked me to make sure that the guys came with climbing gear, chain saws and snow shoes.” The coordinator wound up providing the snow shoes for the crews that were coming from Ashland.

In Vermont, “it’s a lot of right of way work. That’s why they needed such specialized linemen to go up there to be able to walk 1,800 feet through a right of way to retie a wire or clear a tree or whatever they had to do,” Lawler said.

Lawler noted that the crews were “kind of put on standby Saturday night. They restored power to everybody with the co-op, but then an ice storm was projected to come through that area Saturday night through Sunday.” The ice storm did materialize and wound up causing more damage, “so they stayed an extra day and were able to help restore the co-op from that ice storm.” The crews were then released on Dec. 3 and returned home the same day.

More broadly, Lawler said that “the mutual aid network is a tried and true network. We have ten coordinators and sixteen committee members that are truly passionate about it, so we don’t usually struggle getting help” and being able to restore power.

Lawler also serves as a network coordinator on the American Public Power Association’s Mutual Aid Working Group (MAWG). The MAWG comprises representatives from public power utilities, state associations, and joint action agencies. The goal of the MAWG is to advance public power’s mutual aid and disaster management best practices for large-scale events. For additional details on the Association’s mutual aid program, click here.