Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

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DAY_1_RESPONDER
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Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#1 Postby DAY_1_RESPONDER » Sat Jun 04, 2011 3:43 am

One of the mods suggested that I post a review of what happened post Ike in the restoration of electric power.

This is not an official Center Point Energy post, but some general thoughts from a lineman doing restoration work. Please don't take any of this to be official statements from Center Point Energy.

During and after storms, I'm a day one responder for Center Point Energy (CPE), the electric utility company that covers the area from east of Mont Belvieu, northward toward Huffman, northwest to Magnolia, westward to past Sealy, southwest past Wharton, then almost to West Columbia, then all of Jones Creek, Freeport, and the Gulf coast from Quintana Beach all the way to the east end of Galveston.

During this time, I'm a head lineman with a two man crew in a pickup truck. Our jobs are to do what we can do such as closing fuses and getting lines back on, all the way to running drops to a customer house. I'm not involved in the actual installing new poles, running new primary wire, etc.

This will be a review, but it won't be trashing any part of the company. Of course there were critics, but I was too busy and tired to even think about what critics were saying.

When it got obvious Ike was going to hit our area, all vacations were canceled. Death was about the only excuse not to be at work. Most of us rode out the storm at home. I live near Deer Park so I wasn't concerned with anything but high winds. The night Ike hit I was at home, surfing the web. My electricity went out at around 6pm Friday night, but I had a generator going and apparently my DSL service also had some sort of generator going. I actually followed Ike the best I could online.

After the storm cleared, we were to report to work ASAP, but only under safe conditions.

Restoration, from the viewpoint of my job as a two man troubleshooting truck.

The first day was mostly getting the transmission lines and checking out the substations. We were assigned a substation and drove out the lines to the first pole top switch. What this did was allow electricity to flow out from the sub, which meant the breaker for that circuit was OK. The goal was to get every circuit flowing out of the sub into the distribution circuit. When we found the first line down, we isolated it from the first pole top switch.

Our hours were from 530 am to 930 pm, non stop until we were removed from the EOP plan. I'm pretty sure EOP stands foe emergency operations procedures. We worked on the EOP plan for 3 full weeks then worked another 2 full weeks of 12 hour days. Both of us in my truck were in our mid 50's, hardly spring chickens. CPE supplied us with breakfast, box lunch, and dinner. Plus snacks, fruits, soft drinks, juices. I guess we were ran like an army. In the morning we got a breakfast buffet, and at night we got a dinner buffet, but we ate lunch whenever we found time to eat it.

We worked the first two days in the southern part of town, then we were moved to the northwest part of town. The plans that we knew of had water wells, sewer lifts, hospitals, police and fire stations, city halls, and buildings of that nature turned on. I assume this was followed, but there were so many trucks from all over the USA, I would have to assume this was followed. I was assigned major circuits and I got on what I could, then documented as well as I could what poles and wires down that we could not repair. Come to think of it, we were assigned a couple of DPS (Texas highway patrol) offices to get back on.

This went on for about 2 weeks. At night during dinner we were given a report about how many lights were turned on and what our status was. My lights at home were off for about 3 days, then one magical day I called the house and the answering machine picked up. This was literally music to my ears. I had slept with the generator on and a window unit keeping my room cool. My family was sent out of town before the storm hit. Luckily I lived one pole before a fire station so when the fire station got power, I got power.

On week three, we were able to do more actual work as it go to where 2 men could do the work. At this time most of the lines and poles were up and most of the problems were transformers to refuse or tending to the drops that go from the poles to the houses. The bad thing about this is that all of us worked the same amount of hours, but the numbers were dwindling down. We may have turned on 150,000 homes/businesses during the early days, but when it gets to the distribution level the numbers go way down. Early in the storm I may close a fuse and get 2,000 homes back on, but later in the restoration, I may work just as much and only get a couple of homes on.

The plan goes like this.......transmission lines/substations/major circuits/minor circuits/transformers/secondary wires/single houses. If the whole neighborhood has lights, but only 1 home doesn't, be prepared to be put at the bottom of the list, unless you're a critical customer.

Week three took us down to Galveston. We worked getting Tiki Island and Bayou Vista back going. Boy, that was a pain. Unlike most other parts, Tiki and parts of Bayou Vista had what I called a hybrid distribution system. The lines are all overhead with overhead transformers feeding underground drops. Ugh. The drops were on the ground and a lot of the safety covers had floated off. It was a mess. Snakes were all around and we had to go digging with our hands to disconnect the homes with unsafe meter loops, so we could get the safe homes powered back up.

Here are a few things that happened that I remembered.

"Well sir, you do have underground service, however there are poles down 2 miles from your house that need to get replaced." I said that many times. "Well sir, it would cost millions to make everything underground all the way from the substation to your house."

We had a couple of sarcastic comments made toward us, but nothing major as far as customers being angry.

Except on guy in the near north part of town. He just went off, we're talking major problems. When we pulled up in the truck, he and another older lady approached us. We could see he was pretty ticked off looking, so my partner took him. This was best as my partner is a very religious man, he talks the talk and walks the walk. I handled the lady who was as nice as she could be. I took her into her back yard and pointed out where the lines were down in two places that we could see from her house. After explaining to her, and trying to explain to him, we drove off. I had to refer this address for a line crew, so I had to to some work on the computer and I didn't want to do it near his house. About 5 minutes later we see him in his car and he was going about 60 mph in a 30 zone.

Another thing that happened is that we have a small amount of transformers that are self fused, in other words the transformer has a ring that need to be opened then closed to make the transformer work. We don't have a lot of these, maybe <5% and I would guess that some utilities don't have them at all. Remember we have linemen from all over the country working our system. We were getting a school back on and some guy pulls up to our truck, almost desperate looking. Everybody in his whole neighborhood has lights (about 9 days after Ike hit) except for about 12 homes. Normally I tell people we can only do what the computer assigns us to do, but we found his address and I promised him we would go to his address next. I pull up to his house and there is a big crowd around. We find his backyard and find the fuse closed. Hmmmmmm, so I look at the transformer and see the ring on the side. So I get out the stick and ask the customer to turn his back yard light on. By this time we have a large crowd and have everybody's complete attention. I jokingly tell my partner to see if we can finish what some other utility started. I find the ring with my stick, then pull the ring down to reset it, then I raise the stick back and all of a sudden everybody could see the backyard lights come on. You could have sworn the Houston Texans just completed a TD pass to beat Dallas. I swear people were cheering. So now my partner and I are grinning big time, and we feel like a million bucks heading back to the truck. A sweet elderly lady approaches us and asks if everything is now OK. I looked at her and told her (paraphrasing) to go in the house, turn the A/C on high, sit in her favorite chair and watch her favorite TV show.....and to relax and enjoy life. I was grinning real big as I told her that. She reached up and hugged me forever and started crying. On the way back to the truck, I nonchalantly wiped away the tears forming in my eyes.

Sure, we were getting paid very well, but sometimes we needed something of this nature so we wouldn't get complacent and wouldn't forget everybody was counting on all of us to get some sort of normalcy back in their lives.

Another thing that happened that wasn't so nice. About 5 days after Ike hit we were in the northwest part of Houston when we got a phone call. Supposedly a child was down and had touched a hot wire. Time to drop everything and get there. We were sent about 15 miles from where we were, but this was during ordinary traffic. After a storm and the traffic lights aren't on, that 15 minute drive turns into a 60 minute drive. We headed that direction. This place was a country subdivision where on stretch of wire can feed 100 houses, and the road was about 5 long and there were several places the lines were down. The subdivision had a lot of twisting and turning roads, way off the beaten path. I saw a group of people and found the spokesman or alpha male of the group. He told me that *wink* *wink* no child touched a line but that he knew if *wink* *wink* a child was down we would get out there ASAP. I would have taken several men to put all the lines back up and a bucket truck would've been great, but I felt highly betrayed and lied to. All I can guarantee is that when we left, there wasn't any more down lines, but they weren't any closer to having power.

I think the general consensus is that CPE did a good job getting the lights back on. I really don't know, I was too tired to care. I do know most of us gave our all to get service restored to the people of the CPE territory. As much as people wanted their lights back on, we also wanted them back on, so we could get off mandatory 16 hour days, then mandatory 12 hour days.

I've worked through Alicia, Allison x 2, Jerry, Chantal, Rita, and Ike. Hopefully I'm done with hurricane restoration.
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Not a weatherman, but a responder, so this site could be very informative to myself and my work. Please be gentle to this newbie, I will try to ask intelligent questions so you won't have to dumb down your answers too much.

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Re: Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#2 Postby DAY_1_RESPONDER » Sat Jun 18, 2011 8:17 pm

91 views and no comments. I wish someone would have said anything from 'your post stinks to thanks for the efforts.' :lol:
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Not a weatherman, but a responder, so this site could be very informative to myself and my work. Please be gentle to this newbie, I will try to ask intelligent questions so you won't have to dumb down your answers too much.

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#3 Postby x-y-no » Sun Jun 19, 2011 1:24 pm

Thank you for the effort! 8-)

Seriously, it was an interesting read. Thanks.
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Re: Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#4 Postby angelwing » Mon Jun 20, 2011 6:57 am

Thank you for the post! It made me appreciate more of what you folks go thru.

Back in 2005 I just brought my hubby home from the hospital and the power had gone out in our apartment, what we thought would take an hour turned into 2 days as they told us the transformer blew out on the complex and it took them 2 days to get a replacement. I saw first hand what the workers were going thru, it was a 400 unit complex and if all those people would have not bugged them I think the transformer would have been replaced a day earlier, it was August and it was hot. The hubby had 38 staples and I managed to get a ton of battery operated fans to keep him cool, we couldn't afford to go to a hotel room and of course the complex would not pay for it either, needless to say we got out of there.

Thank you again!
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Re: Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#5 Postby twichers » Mon Jun 20, 2011 4:08 pm

Great read.. and thanks for your work.

AFter hurricanes Opal and Ivan, I was always impressed and amazed at the vast collection of power companies (and LEO) that forms up at the appointed areas. I remember crews from as far away Ohio and I think Canada.

When we evacuate you can see the crews streaming south to what I presume are pre-staging areas prior to impact.

Always appreciated!
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Re: Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#6 Postby MGC » Wed Jun 22, 2011 10:47 pm

Thanks for the enlightment....good read. I was amazed at how quick the utility were restored after Katrina. Power was back on just short of three weeks. I noticed that the power was restored first closest to the distribution line from our dirty old coal plant. Since I was near the beach I got power last. It took a good two weeks to clear all the down trees and stack them along the road. It took a good six months to clear up most of the debris around my neighborhood. Water took the longest to restore because all the uprooted trees pulled up the water lines. Got water back in December....MGC
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Re: Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#7 Postby artist » Tue Jul 05, 2011 8:55 am

Day-1, my hat goes off to you guys! I know, living here in FLorida, it is a well tuned masterpiece that transpires after a storm by the electric companies. It just amazes me how the coordination is handled, and handled well, of so many companies being brought together for one goal - to restore everyone's power. Thanks for posting this. It really gives some insight into what you all must have to go through. Thank you for what you and your co-workers do. Hope to see you post more often around here! Welcome!
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Re: Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#8 Postby SETXPTNeches » Sat Jul 30, 2011 10:15 am

I can attest to the fact that ALL Electrical workers, no matter which company they work for, did an excellent job of getting power restored to SETX Counties! We only had to spend 3 nights away from SETX, then went to my sister's house in Little Cypress and only spent a week there before returning to Port Neches. Anyone who has been thru a Hurricane, knows that while you are so wanting to return home, this was a drop in the bucket compared to weeks away from home. Many were not as fortunate as we were.

Let me add a HUGE Thank you to that!!!

We thought that getting back to Port Neches after 4 weeks was a job well done also, post Rita! I know that does not sound like it was good, but that storm damaged many counties and you just have to be patient and let them work their systematic process. The electrical workers work night and day to get things working again, my hat is off them.
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#9 Postby artist » Mon Aug 08, 2011 8:15 am

my hat goes off to them too. I know here it is like a well oiled machine before and after a storm. They are positioned so they can immediately respond when it is considered safe and work many long hours until it is done.
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Re: Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#10 Postby unconquered » Sat Sep 03, 2011 10:09 am

I appreciate the work you do. I have Entergy, myself, but never would have dreamed of even calling them to complain about the outage after Ike or Rita.

People do not understand that restoring power after a hurricane is a LONG process and it is not so simple as just putting the lines back up and replacing/repairing transformers. I will never understand the greed and ugliness that hurricanes bring out in some people. Important resources have to be brought up first. Then, like a tree, you work from the trunk out to the smallest branch. I do not know why that is such an intangible concept for some people.

Everyone is hot and uncomfortable and no one is more important than anyone else. And if you have someone in your home on life support or who needs electricity for other medical reasons, DO NOT STAY. That is common sense.
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Re: Hurricane Ike Electric restoration,

#11 Postby rickcarpenter » Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:06 pm

Hope I'm not too late to reply, I just found this site and got registered. Thanks Responder 1, you did very well! I've done non-electric hurricane relief work since 06 in MS and TX and have seen the work that you and your brothers do in the aftermath. In early Oct 08, four of us went down to League City to join a Texas Baptist Men Mobile Feeding Unit. Driving down I-45, about 80% or more of the traffic was electric utility vehicles streaming south from all over the country with lights flashing. That was one of the most amazing sights I've ever seen. My hometown Huntsville was a temporary "campground" for about 300 utility vehicles, though I was busy elsewhere and did not get a chance to help.
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