“Siting on ‘g’ and waiting for ‘o’” is the way Linda Brannon put it.
That is the short version the Alabama Power Company spokesperson used to describe the diligent and continual logistical planning that precedes the power company’s response to an emergency.
Alabama Power Company is part of the Southern Company, which also includes Gulf Power in Florida and Georgia and Mississippi Power in their respective states.
Alabama Power is divided into six geographic divisions. Coffee and Dale County are part of the Southeast Division that is headquartered in Eufaula. Other counties in the division are Russell, Barbour, Henry, Houston and Geneva Counties and parts of Lee and Chambers Counties.
“I’m not on the power delivery side of the business but I am always so proud of the way the restoration crews shine when there is an emergency,” Brannon said as she and APC’s Storm Center Director Bobby Hawthorn talked about Category 4 Hurricane Michael that slammed through the area after making landfall in the eastern Florida Panhandle Oct. 10, 2018.
Rated just short of a Category 5 hurricane with sustained wind speed of 155 miles per hour, Michael demolished buildings, trees and power poles all along its path. Unofficial estimates put damage between $5 billion and $8 billion and some 2 million customers in multiple states lost power.
Alabama Power restored electricity to more than 89,000 customers affected by the storm, Brannon said. Alabama Power replaced nearly 100 poles and 275 spans of wire and then joined mutual assistance efforts by helping to restore electric service to customers of its neighbor utilities in Georgia and Florida.
Nearly 1,250 company and contracted employees joined 245 local employees in the Alabama restoration effort, as soon as it was safe to start, according to APC Public Relations Coordinator Michael Sznajderman. “Crews completed work in Alabama and then headed to Florida and Georgia to assist sister companies Gulf Power and Georgia Power.”
Alabama Power’s Customer Service Center also provided support to Gulf Power in the immediate aftermath of Michael, handling nearly 850 calls on behalf of Gulf Power customers, Sznajderman said. APC’s CSC storm team handled more than 52,000 customer calls—either directly or through the company’s automated system, he added. The company also responded to more than 860 online inquiries via email or social media.
“Yes, ma’am, the crews are out there working as soon as it is safe to work,” Brannon said. “They work—and they take great pride in their work.”
Hawthorne agreed. “Safety is our top priority but as soon as it is deemed safe, the crews go into action,” he said. “Always our first concern is safety, followed by serving our customers.”
“We’re constantly monitoring the weather for any severe weather,” Hawthorne explained. “One of the benefits of living in Alabama is we have all kinds of weather events that we’re able to prepare for.
“We’re always monitoring, we’re always talking to the National Weather Service,” he added. “We also have some external weather service providers who provide us with additional weather information.
“At the same time we are talking to the other companies within Southern Company to determine what they think the impact on them will be and whether they be able to provide assistance to us and/or vice versa,” Hawthorne said. “Then if we think we are going to need more help than what is available from within the Southern Company, we’ll reach out to our mutual assistance partners which for us is the Southeastern Electric Exchange.”
Alabama Power did not have to call in outside help for power restoration after Hurricane Michael, Hawthorne said. “But on some of the past big ones they have brought in as many as 6,000 people from outside the state.
“Unfortunately we have a lot of experience with storms—that’s good and bad,” Hawthorne said, adding that as the path of Hurricane Michael became apparent, APC crews from throughout the state were moved to the southeast for most immediate response.
“We have pre-identified staging areas scattered around the state where we can park vehicles, sleep and feed crews and stagte material that will be needed,” Hawthorne explained.
“Perfect” is what Hawthorne called the staging field at the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds which was used during Hurricane Michael. “Our first choice is using hotels but when you are bringing in a lot of people in a concentrated area, many times there is not enough area hotels to sleep everybody and you have to go to Plan B,” Hawthorne said. “The Peanut Festival grounds was a perfect staging area. It turned out great. It was an ideal situation.
“We use vendors who can come in and set up either sleeper trailers and all the necessary logistics to support the group that is working out of that staging area,” Hawthorne explained. “Our supply chain group also has emergency storm material that we have available for the staging area.
“Our Number 1 goal is to restore power in a safe, orderly and efficient manner,” Hawthorne said. “Safety is the Number 1 priority with our company.”
Being staged as close as possible to the areas hit means that restoration crews hit the road as soon as conditions are deemed safe.
The delivery of electricity starts at the power plant, then it’s put on the transmission lines to take it from the power plant to the substations and from there onto the distribution system, the lines along the streets serving the customers. That is a very simplified explanation of the domino-effect, power delivery process that could be damaged at any point during a storm. “We start on the main lines with emphasis on the critical customers, like hospitals and other critical customers,” Hawthorne said. “Then we work our way out to the secondary lines.
“We have a lot of practice in Alabama with everything from snow and ice to straight line winds to tornados to hurricanes,” Hawthorne said. “Unfortunately, that provides us with plenty of opportunities to improve our restoration practices.”
Hawthorne said that APC is one of the most recognized companies in the country for their storm response operations. APC has been awarded a total of 19 Edison Electric Institute awards for either Storm Recovery or Storm Assistance. The company has received 11 awards for assisting other utilities in helping them to recover and eight for recovery efforts on the APC system following a major storm.
Hawthorne had high praise for the linemen whose boots hit the ground as soon as conditions are deemed safe. “Our crews take it personal because most of the time they are restoring power to their neighbors, their communities and their towns and they know that it’s up to them to get it done.”