Mon, Oct. 21

My Turn: Restoring power an exercise in teamwork, diligence

For those readers who do not know me let me introduce myself; I work for APS and was the duty supervisor on July 19 when a micro-burst broke 15 of our power poles and damaged several others along Prairie Lane just west of Cliff View Drive and east of Verde Village.

At the time of the storm, I was visiting a friend in Rimrock and was watching the storm as it approached Cottonwood. It was an awesome storm to watch even from that far away. This was a devastating event, and it is important that people know what is actually required to restore power in such situations.

I received a call from my serviceman at about 6:30 in the evening on Saturday the 19th saying there were several poles down, perhaps as many as 10-12. At that moment began a process I was proud to be a part of and awed to watch unfold.

As duty supervisors, certain APS employees are charged with responsibility for calling crews and service personnel for emergencies, answering customer inquiries of an urgent nature, and in general, being available 24 hours a day for anything necessary.

Upon receipt of the call saying we had poles down, all of our available Cottonwood linemen were activated to assist. The process of calling often takes an hour or more as the people may or may not be available and multiple calls are often necessary. This day it took about 35 minutes to get two crews rolling into the construction yard. It takes additional time to get the members in, as some live in Camp Verde, Sedona, Cornville, one was even as far away as Prescott Valley.

Once the crews arrive at the yard, they have to load their trucks with materials, water, fuel, special tools, wire, and many other things needed. They must also pull maps of the affected areas to assist them in switching lines and rebuilding lines that are down.

I did a quick drive to assess the damages and determined we would need 15, (6 steel and 9 wood) poles. As such, obtaining materials was a very serious issue. Two of my other design people were asked to assist by drawing up a job and ordering materials for the crews.

As a designer myself, I went to the field to determine exactly what was to be needed and the other two designers went to work making a drawing of the necessary work and a list of the specifications at each pole location.

Meanwhile, our pole-framing department in Peoria was activated to load up and deliver poles and insulators. They worked much of the night and were on the road by about 6 a.m. Sunday. By about 5 in the morning after all the material had been entered into the computer, (and there was a very large list), the warehouse people in Phoenix were called in to get the material pulled, loaded and delivered.

While all of this was happening, our Community Relations Director for the Northern Area was notifying the local radio stations of the restoration progress and was making arrangements to purchase dry ice, have it loaded and delivered to Cornville. He even called out people to assist in the distribution of the dry ice on site and oversaw the work as it progressed.

At the very beginning of the outage on Saturday evening, Our Yavapai Operations Center was activated in Prescott to oversee the switching of lines, the laying of temporary lines to restore power to as many people as possible, the issuing of clearances to make safe and control the re-building process, and the calling of guards to protect the temporary, 7,200-volt lines laid on the ground. Yavapai Operations is the guiding/controlling force for the initial restoration and for the maintenance of safety for our crews.

Due to the size and complexity of this outage the APS General Manager, the Northern AZ. Director, the Verde District Manager and the Verde Construction Supervisor were all available to oversee the various aspects of power restoration. Many of the managers, supervisors, crew members, servicemen, etc. worked up to 15 continuous hours on site, (the maximum allowed by ADOT regulations) before being sent home for a mandatory eight-hour sleep time. Many then returned for another 15-hour shift.

We had crews from Flagstaff, Prescott, and Cottonwood all working long shifts, all dedicated to restoration of power to our Cornville customers. We had two "on-site" Construction Coordinators overseeing restoration work coordinating all efforts. These two were the on-site guiding force for best utilization of man and materials.

As required by state law, all of the other utility companies were called out in the middle of the night to blue-stake their existing facilities. Once staking was done, digging was started for the 15 poles to be replaced. By the time the poles arrived, the crews were able to start placing them in the ground.

This process continued for just over 36 hours, with crew members, servicemen, managers, designers, warehousemen, field coordinators, hole diggers, truck drivers and pole framers, all working diligently, expeditiously, and safely to restore service.

At one particular moment Sunday morning, upon my arrival following a six-hour sleep, I found we had 22 APS vehicles on site, including nine line trucks (counting some that were being used to hold up unsupported poles). It was a truly amazing effort.

The line we replaced was built during the 1970s and consisted of wood poles. A few years ago, APS became a "steel pole" company. We try to use steel poles where ever we have good access from a roadway, so if you drive down along Prairie, you will note a mixture of both steel and wood poles. Since many of the poles are on U.S. Forest Service property where access for other than emergency restoration is not allowed, wood was used to replace the original wood poles. We can climb them to do our work when necessary. We cannot climb the steel poles as our gaffs don't seem to hold very well.

The entire process of replacing over a mile of line went surprisingly well. Power was restored almost 12 hours sooner than even the best estimates due to the exceptional diligence and hard work of the many people who came together for our customers.

It's unfortunate Mother Nature does these things, but it is nice to know that when she does, there are people standing by to do whatever is necessary to restore power in the shortest possible time frame.

Gari Basham is a duty supervisor for Arizona Public Service in the Verde Valley.

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