CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A year after the derecho dealt a crushing blow to West Virginia, power company leaders say they are better prepared.
The storm struck June 29, 2012, not long after staff meteorologists with American Electric Power issued an advisory the Huntington/Charleston area could be in for damaging storms. Twenty-four hours later the company was dealing with 600,000 outages.
“We serve about a million customers and nearly 60 percent of our customers were interrupted,” said Phil Wright, vice president of distribution operations for Appalachian Power.
Wright said the storm taught a lot of valuable lessons. The review of the response to the derecho led to many changes in company procedure for dealing with a massive outage and weather event. The first is prioritizing repairs.
Typically the company expects damage to its distribution system, but the derecho collected that and caused major damage to transmission equipment which isn’t typical.
“We had to find a way to prioritize and tie together the work being done on transmission to the work done on distribution,” he said Thursday on MetroNews Talkline. “We developed a system and the software to do that. It’s still in place and we continue to maintain it.”
Secondly, the storm posed a challenge in finding enough help to make repairs. Since the storm covered numerous states, AEP had to call crews from as far away as California, Texas, and other western states.
“Some of these crews we didn’t have experience with at all,” he said. “We now have developed a process where we pre-certify them.”
The company also learned it needed to do a better job of scheduling of those workers. The linemen were working 16-hour days and only getting eight hours off. The lack of sleep became unsafe at times. Wright said they immediately addressed the work schedule and now give more workers time to rest, improving safety amid the catastrophic repairs.
The final change also involved staffing in times of crisis. A number of AEP employees in non-traditional repair roles are now trained in an emergency to take on some duties which will aid in speeding along restoration. Those include some office personnel and power plant workers.
“We’ve trained them to some task that could be of some benefit,” Wright said.
Although the scope of the damage from the derecho is rare, the company believes the lessons learned in the difficult days that followed will improve future response to any measure of storm outage.