Hurricane season is upon us, and just as we remind our members to be prepared in case one of these seasonal storms heads our way, GVEC takes steps to prep as well. While we hope emergency protocol never has to be called into action, being ready is vital to turning the lights back on as quickly and safely as possible.
In fact, in 2017 GVEC and our members experience first-hand just how important hoping for the best and preparing for the worst was when Hurricane Harvey blew through the Guadalupe Valley. It was the largest natural disaster GVEC had faced in its 79-year history. Forty mile-per-hour winds causing 17,000 meters to lose power over 3,500 square miles of our service territory demonstrated exactly how prepping and planning for such events is crucial, as we were able to restore power to all of our members within just a few days.
How did we do it? How does GVEC hurricane-prep—to be ready to head to the office and out into the storm while most others are closing shop and heading home?
GVEC has developed an Emergency Operations Plan that is examined and revised regularly to stay up to date. In conjunction with Texas Electric Cooperatives (TEC) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), we produced a written disaster plan to guide us in proactive and reactive recovery of systems, lines and equipment. This high-level guide covers a wide range of circumstances that we hope we will never have to face, but as we saw with Harvey, planning makes the difference of days versus weeks without power for our members.
Our Emergency Operations Plan covers everything from recognition of potential emergencies or disasters, identification of possible business and operation functions that could be affected in different emergencies, proactive measures to minimize effects, public communication protocol, to staffing and shifts.
A tabletop exercise is conducted at least annually to ensure accuracy and functionality of the Plan. Our Control Center practices drills regularly and frequently checks to ensure all meters ping and systems are updated. It is imperative that all communications are functioning properly at all times. Control Center Supervisor Luis Cortez also stressed how critical our Outage Management System is. This system alerts the Control Center to where outages are, how large or small they are, what crews are already in the field and their proximity to the outage.
With Hurricane Harvey, we began planning for more specific situations. As soon as we knew GVEC was in the path, preparation for staffing, crews, possible damage and obstacles began. It was determined that the best scenario would be to wait for the storm to blow through, assess the damage to our system, continually gather information on road conditions and closures and continuing weather conditions, and dispatch crews accordingly.
In the event of emergencies and disasters, such as hurricanes, that would cause a mass number of outages at once, GVEC uses a procedural guideline to restore power in a secure and orderly manner. This allows us to restore power to as many members as possible, as quickly and safely as possible.
Working the lines in a specific order since each part of the electric system is dependent on the other is the most efficient way to resolve immense outage situations. After working transmission lines and equipment, substations are focused on. From there, focus shifts to repairing three-phase distribution lines and then single-phase main lines. Three-phase taps, single-phase taps and then transformers are repaired, rounding out the restoration procedure. Throughout all of this, safety remains the key objective—not compromising safety rules, standards or regulations for any reason.
All the planning, practice and procedures we have wouldn’t amount to much without our people. But it’s about more than just being fully staffed and well trained. GVEC employees take pride in service and care about our members as well as each other. This is fundamental when we find a natural disaster rearing its head in our service territory.
During Hurricane Harvey, we had 325 employees on call and 39 crews in the field working outages. Forty customer service representatives fielded an average of 6,000 calls per day, round the clock. And they were all ready and willing to do so.
Arriving to work with overnight bags, blankets and pillows the day Harvey was to blow in, many expected not to leave work, knowing flooded roads and weather conditions would make it too dangerous to go home at the end of the day. They also knew their co-workers and our members were depending on them to get through this event. As a team, they worked and weathered the storm together.
We remind and encourage our members to prepare for hurricane season every year. In all your preparation—gathering items for emergency kits, stocking up on food and water, gassing up your vehicles, and all the other things you need to do to ready your home and families—we want you to know GVEC is here. We are prepping also. We are ready when disaster strikes and to remain steadfast in the storm.