Co-op Voices

Co-ops Prep for the Unpreventable

By David Callis Published: December 20th, 2011

Electric cooperative employees take pride in their daily work of providing service to their members. They also take pride in providing emergency assistance, in their hometowns or several states away.

David Callis

David Callis

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, and other statewide organizations, can’t predict when and where the next disaster will occur. But we can ensure that we have accurate information on whom to contact in each state so we know what equipment is needed (or available) and which states are helping each other.

Over the years, great progress has been made in effectively dealing with disaster situations. One colleague from Oklahoma has developed a sophisticated index that helps predict where ice accumulations may occur and the severity of each. We use it in Tennessee to warn systems of impending danger. We can’t prevent the icing from occurring, but we can be better prepared for it.

Another co-op, in Louisiana, is developing a program for scheduling and tracking line crews that may be traveling hundreds of miles to assist fellow co-ops. The database will help co-ops facing disasters know what crews and equipment are coming to assist them. Co-ops providing the assistance will know when their crews have safely arrived.

The Louisiana system, when fully implemented, will be invaluable in providing timely, accurate records, which are ultimately reviewable by federal entities that may reimburse much of the costs.

Both of these endeavors have originated from electric co-ops because of a desire to meet members’ needs. None of the individuals involved in the projects has any intention of selling the work to the highest bidder. Instead, the only goal is to create a tool that will improve our disaster assistance to our co-op neighbors.

We never have difficulty in getting volunteers from Tennessee to help other states—we’ve earned our “Volunteer State” nickname many times. This year, we gave and were on the receiving end of emergency assistance: Crews from North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky and Alabama assisted co-ops in Tennessee; our crews, in turn, helped co-ops in Alabama.

This past year, Alabama was easily the hardest-hit. By some counts, 67 tornadoes criss-crossed the state. The devastation was simply unbelievable in many areas. Families must cope with the loss of nearly 250 loved ones from the April storms.

Sharing experiences with other co-ops is important because no two disaster recovery efforts are the same. To be as prepared as we can to meet restoration challenges, our planning must continually evolve.

April’s storms brought a new aspect to disaster assistance with which we do not often deal. A co-op colleague from Alabama told our emergency group that it was the first time that linemen, on site to repair lines, encountered the bodies of those killed by the storms. The men were shaken by the scope of the disaster. Men who work around high voltage that could easily injure or kill them were moved to tears.

My colleague said he “could see in their eyes” the emotional toll the tragedy took on the linemen. His concern was not only for those impacted directly by the storm but a fear that an emotionally upset worker could have a momentary lapse during work and suffer a severe injury. Many had to take time to regroup before they went back to the task at hand.

The crews completed their work safely—and in record time. Crews that went to Alabama will forever remember the devastation they witnessed. And their experiences will help them the next time they volunteer to help co-ops in need.

David Callis is vice president of statewide services of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

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