Ready, Respond, Recover – Damage Prevention Best Practices Following a Disaster

When it comes to damage prevention following a disaster, Ready, Respond, Recover is an easy way to think about what needs to be done to be successful in safe and rapid restoration. The best defense is a good offense, and the first step is always preparation. It is imperative that an electric utility have a business continuity and crisis management plan that has been designed, implemented, and tested to ensure proper execution in a time of disaster. An automated mass emergency notification system is critical to assemble leadership, mobilize response teams and deliver messages to employees, contractors and customers through email, text messages and cell phones, assuming telecommunications services are still available. If not, Wireless Priority Service or Satellite Broadband Services would be necessary to communicate with teams. The team of emergency responders should be pre-trained and well versed on all processes and procedures well before an event occurs. This prevents the need for on-the-spot training for maps, clearances, lock out/tag out, etc. needed to work safely.

A large part of being ready is mitigation. Regularly scheduled patrol of overhead infrastructure as well as a robust vegetation management program reduces the likelihood of wires down due to tree contact, broken limbs, and uprooted trees. Also, where possible, aged underground infrastructure should be replaced at the end of its lifespan to reduce the likelihood of an unscheduled outage as old equipment with multiple repaired faults may pose a risk for increased outages during heat-related events.

Once the threat of the disaster has passed, assessment of the infrastructure is needed. Are there pockets of damage or is it more widespread? Do we need to de-energize circuits before work can safely begin? Do we need to remove debris before rebuilding and restoration can start? This information provides us a guide as to which emergency responders need to be called in first. The more information, the better the response.

After assessment of the damage, begin to respond and dispatch much needed emergency personnel to the areas that can provide the safest and quickest path to restoration. Most disaster events are severe storms, high wind, ice, etc. After lines are deenergized for safety, send in tree crews and circuit patrollers first to remove debris so equipment can be accessed, and the damage assessed. Begin at the substation and work the mainline downstream resetting poles and rehanging wire until the circuit is complete and can be re-energized. This is followed by tap fuses off the main and finally services. During this time, it is important that coordination occur between the One Call system, the utility, its contractors and locators. This is a critical time, and some areas may contain hazards. Load is most likely out of configuration so communication between the crew and locator is needed so that locators are briefed on hazards and are not locating in areas where they don’t need to be, and crews aren’t digging where there are no marks. Joint Operation Centers that contain members of the municipality, the utility, etc., can help advise on access points or trouble areas and can also assist in getting word out to their constituents, especially about hazards on downed wires.

Even though customers are anxious to get their power back on, it must be done safely. This includes ensuring no excavation begins without notifying the One Call and all crews working know and understand the state’s One Call laws. Training up front is important, but some events require mutual assistance from neighboring states. Not all One Call laws are the same so the restoration crews, as excavators, must be brought up to speed on requirements such as the waiting period and tolerance zone. State laws should provide contractors the ability to dig on the same ticket as the utility during largescale disaster events. This helps reduce the redundancy of calling in the same ticket by multiple excavation crews and overloading the One Call system. If the same work is being done at the same location, it should be considered a valid dig ticket for whomever is doing the work. This also prevents the locator from getting bogged down with duplicate tickets. Check with your local One Call to determine what your state allows.

“Excavators should always work with marks on the ground
and prudently dig within the tolerance zone.”

During restoration, care must be taken to protect the existing underground infrastructure. The last thing an excavator needs is to hit a gas main while attempting to install a pole, so the crew should know the dig number and the extent of the work called in. They must only work in the areas outlined on the ticket and only perform the work advised on the ticket. They should not be trenching in a service when they called in to set a pole.

Helpful tools like smartphone apps from locate vendors can provide the excavator access to view the ticket as well as confirm the locate has been completed and which utilities have been marked. This makes it easier to schedule crews to each location when there is confirmation that the locate is complete and allows crews to remain productive rather than waiting on a locate.

Positive Response is used in some states and produces the same outcome of ensuring crews are sent to locations where the locate is complete. Once the area is located, the crew must dig by hand carefully and prudently to expose any marked utilities within the tolerance zone. During storms, vacuum excavation is always a good tool and can safely excavate in congested areas quickly when multiple utilities are present or when imminent danger is present requiring immediate excavation. This reduces time needed to hand dig with a shovel and when properly used, helps to prevent damage to other utilities. The crews should also know when and how to contact the One Call system in case they need marks verified or confirmed.

When it comes to damage prevention best practices after a disaster, the main points to remember are Ready, Respond, Recover. Always consider the actual business plan before discussing the damage prevention plan. While in the response and recovery process, coordinate between the utility and the municipality to help determine areas of concern or pockets of minor or major damage. Open the lines of communication between the crew and the locator to advise of hazards in the field and to aid in the confirmation of existing infrastructure. The execution of the work is where the most exposure for damage lies. Use tools such as vacuum excavation in areas of congestion. Excavators should always work with marks on the ground and prudently dig within the tolerance zone. Digging to the depth of the excavation, not using mechanized equipment in the tolerance zone, and visually identifying the line have always been best practices of safe excavation.

Ready, Respond, Recover is a good starting point when developing a damage prevention plan following a disaster. It is important to understand that damage prevention is a shared responsibility and when we all understand our role and the impact it has on the process, we have a much better opportunity to get the service restored for our customers in a timely and, most importantly, safe manner.

Kelley Heinz is Senior Claims Case Manager/Damage Prevention at ComEd. She can be reached at kelley.

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