Plan your work and work your plan. That’s an adage any successful business follows, but it’s especially important in a crisis or emergency situation. In the utility business, our daily work is about keeping the power flowing to our customers. Each day, our team is busy maintaining our system, responding to customer calls, and working on projects to upgrade the infrastructure to improve reliability.
However, when severe weather hits and our infrastructure is damaged, we shift into a response mode that follows a comprehensive plan that has been created and continuously refined to ensure that we can meet the needs of customers and restore power safely.
On December 27, 2015, our operations team in the Peoria area received an alert that a weather system was predicted to impact the northern part of our service territory. Ameren Illinois subscribes to sophisticated weather spotting technology and staffs an Emergency Operations Center that monitors conditions 24/7 and prepares our teams to take action in the event of widespread power outages. That evening, we began mobilizing crews and staging equipment and storm trailers across the communities that were predicted to bear the brunt of the severe weather. We instructed our crews to pack for three-day deployment.
Sure enough, we were hit hard by rain, ice and wind the next morning. In fact, this massive storm impacted a good part of the country—from Texas all the way up through Peoria, Bloomington and northern Illinois. Up to a half-inch of ice settled on our lines, combined with 50-mph wind gusts and heavy rains that saturated the ground.
We activated our Emergency Operations Center, and our response plan called for us to immediately begin pulling in resources from across the state and country to assist. Many of our utility colleagues around the country were dealing with storms of their own. Workers from private contractors and utilities traveled to our region from Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and northern Illinois.
During storm restoration, we prioritize by first repairing the “feeder” lines that can bring power back to the most customers possible. These are the large, high-voltage lines that you may see running along major thoroughfares. Then we work down to device outages, the mechanical pieces of equipment that allow us to protect our system when faults occur, prevent future outages (“reclosers”), and switch and disconnect to reroute power flow or de-energize sections of the system. Next in priority is repairing transformer outages that step down power from primary voltage to the secondary voltage at the home or business. Finally, we work single outages, repairs at the customer’s premise. Of note, we restrung 63,124 feet of wire in the Peoria area that week.
During the course of any storm, we communicate frequently with many stakeholders. From day one, we were updating the Illinois Commerce Commission, the state’s emergency management agencies and local officials (Peoria and its surrounding communities) on our restoration efforts. We also fielded more than 65,000 customer phone calls and 5,300 social media inquiries related to the storm.
Storm restoration is a complex process, but it’s something we take a lot of pride in. I want to thank the men and women of Ameren Illinois, as well as the 1,200 contractor and vegetation resources who had a plan and worked the plan, safely restoring power to our customers. iBi
Daetta Jones is Director of Division I Operations for Ameren Illinois.