Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Public power crews start work on Michael-related restoration

Public power utilities on Oct. 11 started to take stock of the damage done to the power grids in states hit by Hurricane Michael. Florida, which took the brunt of Michael’s full force as it made landfall, was grappling with overall power outages of 400,000 customers.

Line workers from public power utilities in several states were already pre-positioned to help with restoration efforts through the American Public Power Association’s mutual aid network prior to Michael’s landfall.

The U.S. Department of Energy on the morning of Oct. 11 released a situation report on Michael, which is now a tropical storm, in which the federal agency said that crews in the impacted area, where the storm has passed, have begun to perform damage assessments and restorations as weather conditions permit.

The DOE said that impacted and potentially impacted utilities have mobilized over 30,000 personnel, including utility crews, contractors, and mutual aid workers from at least 24 states to restore power.

Meanwhile, the Association continues to monitor Michael and as of Oct. 11, the system falls under the category of a Mutual Aid Playbook activation level 3 (regional event). The Association is also coordinating daily conference calls with relevant public power coordinators who provide updates on restoration efforts and outage totals.

Florida Panhandle hit hard

The Florida Panhandle experienced extreme damage as a result of Michael, which made landfall with wind speeds of 155 miles per hour, making it a category 4 hurricane.

Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, has taken the lead in terms of coordinating all mutual aid response in Florida.

Along with her role as executive director of the FMEA, Zubaly is the Mutual Aid Working Group Network Coordinator from Florida.

FMEA reported that as of the morning of Oct. 11, out of 400,000 total outages, 122,000 were from public power utilities and more than 100,000 of these were in Florida’s state capital, Tallahassee, where 96 percent of the system was down. Also, 60 percent of Tallahassee’s transmission was down, but crews were starting to do damage assessments.

Smaller public power utilities in the path of the storm were completely without power and many had full utility outages including water, gas, and communications.

Meanwhile, downed trees were presenting a challenge to transmission restoration.

Florida’s Orlando Utilities Commission, a public power utility, tweeted that its crews began work the morning of Oct. 11 in Tallahassee to restore power. “The crew just turned on a circuit in the city, getting hundreds of residents and business back up and running,” OUC said in the tweet.

Other Florida public power utilities are also pitching in to help with restoration efforts. Kissimmee Utility Authority posted a photo on its Twitter feed showing crews from KUA and JEA working together to restore power in Tallahassee.

JEA sent 10 four-men electric crews, four troubleshooters, two coordinators, support staff and supplies to the Tallahassee area to help those who were affected by Michael.

Key West, Florida-based Keys Energy Services also said that it was sending six linemen to Tallahassee to assist with post-Hurricane Michael power restoration.

The Florida Municipal Power Agency on Oct. 11 tweeted that it had personnel helping with restoration in Chattahoochee and Havana as well as staff supporting with procurement of materials and other logistics.

Other states in the Southeast also affected

In Alabama, two public power cities – Dothan and Hartford – were particularly hard hit by Michael. As of the morning of Oct. 11, Dothan had 25,000 out of 30,000 customers without power, while Hartford was completely without power and transmission was down.

In neighboring Georgia, a few cities were out of contact and likely completely without power. Some crews were being dispatched to those communities, but other crews from unaffected areas of the state were available for dispatch.

On Oct. 10, South Carolina’s Santee Cooper said its personnel were making preparations for the anticipated effects and tropical storm force winds that Michael could have on Santee Cooper’s service territory and statewide transmission system. Approximately two million South Carolinians depend on the state-owned electric and water utility as their power source, either directly or through the state’s electric cooperatives.

As of 3 p.m., Oct. 10, Santee Cooper was Operating Condition 2 alert status, meaning a threat to Santee Cooper’s electric system was imminent or had occurred, but effects were limited or still uncertain. Santee Cooper’s Storm Center was scheduled to be activated at 11 a.m. on Oct. 11.

However, the storm track shifted to the west and moved further out of Santee Cooper’s service area. As a result, Santee Cooper was doing better than expected with only a few scattered outages, approximately 1,000 as of the morning of Oct. 11.

In North Carolina, ElectriCities of North Carolina said that it was monitoring Michael and the potential for it to cause scattered outages across the state, given the expected strong winds and heavy rain.

ElectriCities of North Carolina is a membership organization including public power communities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. It also provides management services to North Carolina’s  two public power agencies -- North Carolina Municipal Power Agency Number 1 and North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency. 

Crews were pre-positioned prior to hurricane making landfall

Prior to Michael making landfall, the Association’s mutual aid network was activated, with public power utilities from several states sending crews to the region.

On Oct. 11, Texas-based public power utility Austin Energy in a tweet said that with hundreds of thousands of people without power, it has released five contract crews and five Asplundh Tree crews to help restore power in Michael-impacted areas.