The Importance of Storm Work Policies and Procedures

The Importance of Storm Work Policies and Procedures


By Josh Beaver, Eastern U.S. Operations Supervisor, CN Utility Consulting

In the world of utility vegetation management (UVM), a considerable amount of time and resources will inevitably be devoted to storm restoration efforts each year. Seasoned utility foresters know that severe weather conditions play a significant role in the amount of routine pruning completed annually. This year has been no exception. A violent derecho struck the Mid-Atlantic region in late June, causing widespread damage and receiving a tremendous amount of media attention. The storm produced a massive number of outages and left many affected customers asking why power restoration efforts took the amount of time they did to complete.

With global warming now accepted by the majority of the scientific community, it’s important to be conscious of the increasing potential for violent storm systems to occur more often. One subsequent result will be demand for utility foresters who are capable of providing storm operation procedures and other assistance.

The derecho and the issues that arose from it were still fresh in the minds of utility employees when an unexpected wind storm blew through the Southeast just a few days later. In approximately 30 to 40 minutes, the 60 mph winds resulted in power outages to more than 30,000 customers in Chattanooga, Tenn., and nearly 20,000 in north Georgia. Once the storm had passed and damage was assessed, it was apparent that CN Utility Consulting (CNUC) utility foresters would be needed to assist our clients in their restoration efforts.

The utility companies CNUC serves in these areas, Electric Power Board (EPB) and North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation (NGEMC), know the benefits of having our consulting utility foresters (CUFs) contribute to the difficult task of storm restoration. That being said, we as a contractor know it is important to provide our employees with a comprehensive training program that emphasizes storm work operations so all of our clients can benefit from these support services. The main focus for any company should be to develop a storm work process which emphasizes safety and communication.

Like most in our industry, safety will always be a core value of our company, and it is imperative to storm operations.  Our consulting utility foresters (CUFs) are trained to provide assistance during storm operations and must demonstrate a complete understanding of our safety policy.  Each CUF must also possess thorough knowledge of the safety requirements set forth by the specific utility they are assisting so that no protocols are broken.  Often, our CUFs are providing assistance to outsourced crews, so it’s necessary to know that company’s internal safety policy to ensure no conflicts arise and the work is performed to everyone’s satisfaction.

Another key element of storm work operations, no matter the scope, is communication.  Before storm work is performed, the lead CUF on the property is responsible for notifying their direct supervisor of the situation as well as the employees providing assistance during the operation. During storm work, each CUF must also stay in contact with a utility representative at the storm center and someone within the internal chain of command. A dependable cell phone or laptop is necessary to stay in constant contact, provide efficient results and report any hazards to utility representatives.

Prior to this season’s storms, the devastating storm season of 2011 in the Southeast saw the need for increased preparedness on all levels, and as a company, we have stepped up to the challenge. In all facets of storm work operations it’s important to develop a process of continuous improvement.  This will help to ensure previous missteps will not be repeated.

The storm work assistance our company provided in north Georgia this summer was similar to previous efforts.  At NGEMC, our lead CUF quickly mobilized line clearance crews for the restoration effort, even before outage information became available. The following process was carried out both before and during the storm operation:

  • Contact the utility and determine the magnitude of the outage. Determine the approximate number of line clearance crews that will be needed.
  • Contact the General Foremen and line clearance crews and pass along all pertinent information.
  • Meet with the crews to ensure a safety stand down is performed before any work begins.
  • Dispatch line clearance crews to areas the utility needs work performed.
  • Provide assistance to the line clearance crews in the field when needed (flagging, assistance moving brush, etc.).
  • Provide scouting to the utility to determine if line clearance crews or line crews are needed at a reported location.

At EPB we have assisted with various tasks during storm work operations ranging from dispatching to scouting. This particular season we have streamlined our efforts to provide more assistance with field operations.  “Our CNUC tree pruning planning consultants volunteered to help scout storm damage [in early July].  Scouts go to locations before line crews to assess damage and report their findings back to dispatchers.  The information scouts provide enables department leaders to send the appropriate crew and materials to make needed repairs,” said George Morgan, vegetation manager at EPB. “The CNUC consultants’ knowledge of our electrical system and computer software proved to be a tremendous asset!  We are grateful for their help.”

Storm work operations were a success overall, completed in a timely fashion with no incidents.  As with all storm events, the following weeks saw each utility inundated with customer requests related to storm damage. These work requests require a discerning eye, as many situations need work performed immediately and others can be delayed until routine maintenance pruning. With an experienced staff, the department was able to complete the hazardous tree work that remained and resume their normal schedule relatively quickly. The need for highly skilled arborists to assist in storm work operations should be a priority for all consulting companies. With a detailed storm work policy in place, utility companies will continue to benefit from the assistance provided by consulting utility foresters.

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