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So how does Duke go about restoring power?

It starts with the forecast.

Even before television newscasters announced the probability of a big snowstorm on Dec. 8, Duke Energy meteorologists were making a forecast for the utility.
“They were calling for 12 inches plus for the higher elevations, so I don’t think we were surprised,” said Craig DeBrew, a Duke community relations manager. “We sent out a press release on Thursday that said, hey, we’re expecting widespread, multi-day power outages.” The news release is intended “as much as we can to give people a heads up — if you’re elderly, if you’re depending on oxygen, we’re trying to let people let know, if having electricity is important to you, you need to be making some plans because this is not going to be good.”
DeBrew, who is Duke Energy’s main contact with customers, businesses and local government officials in Cleveland, Polk, Rutherford, Transylvania and Henderson counties, described in an interview the utility’s process for restoring power in a winter storm.
The forecasters were right. Crews had plenty of lines to reconnect and poles to repair after the winter storm the weekend of Dec. 8-9 buried Western North Carolina and parts of the Piedmont in up to 2 feet of snow.

Cots and catered meals
Although some customers complained that it took too long to get their lights — and their furnace — back on, DeBrew described a process involving weeks of planning, the deployment of hundreds of workers and lots of cots and catered meals.
“It’s a combination of people and technology,” he said.
Electricity is distributed from large lines to substations, which reduce the voltage from transmission voltage to distribution voltage. The substation in turn is linked to three or four feeders. Duke knows which feeders provide power to a critical user — a hospital, a sewage life station, a firehouse.
“Say I’ve lost Kanuga feeder No. 1204. We can go to a list that’ll tell us, here are the critical customers you’ve got on that particular feeder,” he said.
In a “normal thunderstorm kind of thing,” Duke can pinpoint problems and restore power quickly. A snowstorm over a large area involves teams of assessors, who drive around the entire system to see what’s out and what caused it.
“In a snow or ice event, it’s hard for us to identify where the priorities, so we open up the communication with emergency management to tell us, ‘Here are our top priorities over the next couple of hours. It would be a big help if y’all could address these as soon as possible.’”
“Day 1 of the storm, we’re going to have damage assessors. We’re going to have engineering folks, knowledgeable folks and if it’s a big storm they’re already going to be deployed,” while the snow is still falling. “We’re going to get them here early. As soon as the storm hit they’re the first people out.”
The assessors become the first deciders in the power restoration triage. They know how to measure tasks in minutes, hours or days.
“They’re checking out these feeders, they’re taking notes, (such as), ‘This Kanuga 1204, it’s got five broken poles.’ You go to another feeder and it’s just got a tree that’s leaning on it. All you gotta do is just cut the tree off of it and that feeder’ll come back on,” DeBrew said.
“So you’re assessing all that damage and you’ve got notes on it and you say, This is how much work it’s going to take to get that back on. At the top, you’ve got an outage with 1,200 people. No. 2 might be a thousand, No. 3 might be 842. So you get to the middle of the page (and) you’ve got outages that are 24, 30. You get to the bottom of the page you’ve got onesies and two-sies. So we do it in a very logical way. I’m going to attack these largest outages first and if I keep my crews busy today and we knock out these 10 largest outages we’re going to get 60 percent of the people restored today.”
That’s what happened in the snowstorm two weeks ago. At 9 o’clock Tuesday night, DeBrew notified county leaders and emergency personnel of substantial progress in restoring power.
“As of 9 PM we are down to 65 events and 871 customers without service,” he said. “This is down from 3,832 customers out yesterday and 9,739 on Sunday.”

Everyone has a ‘storm role’
The power restoration work involves hundreds of personnel whose roles are recast.
“Everybody at Duke Energy, in addition to their normal job, they have a storm role,” DeBrew said. “Engineering people commonly have a storm role of being a damage assessor. But another big piece of what we do is logistics.”
Two weeks ago, two senior Duke officials were driving in deep snow to assess damage.
Robert Sipes, who is in charge of the company’s work to replace the Asheville coal-fired plant with a natural gas plant, and Gary Hamrick, general manager of major projects/grid solutions in the Midwest, walked lines in Buncombe County to plan the repair work.
“People might not even notice us, because it’s just two guys in a passenger car, not heavy equipment,” Sipes said in a Duke Energy feature. “But if we do our scouting right, everyone gets their power on a lot faster, and that makes everyone happy.”
The assessors in the field report to a feeder coordinator — a lineworker who works that corridor every day and can instantly envision what the assessors are reporting. The feeder coordinator then deploys a crew with the right equipment.
“You don’t want to send two trucks for a two-person job,” Sipes said. “If it’s a simple limb on a line, two men can safely remove that, close the fuse, and move on to the next job — all while another truck is working elsewhere.”
“After a crew makes a repair we’ll send them to a nearby school or other parking lot, not all the way back to the main staging area, because they can be deployed faster if they stay close,” Hamrick said. “If customers drive by and see trucks sitting in a parking lot and wonder why they’re not working, they probably just finished one job and are a few minutes away from getting their next assignment. It’s all about logistics and efficiency.”

Staged at Ag Center
During the snowstorm, Duke had 872 personnel working out of the Henderson County operations center on Spartanburg Highway, which serves Henderson and Transylvania counties.
“We had about equal amount of work to do in Transylvania as we did in Henderson,” DeBrew said. “There was 400-plus in each of those counties.”
The planning for the whole region happened days in advance. It involved setting up a large staging area at the WNC Ag Center.
“Somebody’s made the decision that we’re going to have a big event, we’re going to need a lot of resources,” he said. “When these people get here, they’re going to have to have a place to park, they’re going to have to have a place to sleep, they’re going to have to have food to eat, they’re going to have to have material. So that logistics team starts (to plan), ‘How many hotel rooms am I going to need? Where am I going to feed them?’ They’re absolutely vital to what we do.”
Working from daylight to well after dark, the repair crews need sleep and food.
“Sometimes, if it’s really bad, all the restaurants are closed,” DeBrew said. “The first couple days of the storm, we couldn’t get restaurants. Sometimes, especially in the evening meal, we’ll feed them in the ops center. In this particular case, the only place we could get food was at Ingles so our logistics people contacted Ingles and said, ‘Hey, we need hot meals.’”
How many? “You never really know how many people are going to be there because it’s all fluid. … If it’s food you want to err on the side of having enough.”
During the day, the logistics people drive out through the snow to the crews.
“If a crew’s set up and they’re out in the field and it’s lunchtime you can’t have them break down and drive in to town and eat,” DeBrew said. “We’ll have a caterer that’ll bring a ton of meals over by the op center and we’ll have runners take ‘em out to the crews. That may be Chick Fil-A, it may be a hot meal in a box.”
Because the projections are imprecise, the Rescue Mission and Interfaith Assistance Ministry got boxes of food.
“So somewhere in that process, we ordered more meals than we needed,” DeBrew said. “We had extra food that we weren’t going to be able to consume and we said, ‘OK, who can use this food?’ That’s how we ended up reaching out to the rescue mission.”
While part of the job is guesswork, the overall restoration process is the result of hours of planning and a logical approach.
“We’re working the critical customers and the largest outages first,” he said. “If it’s two or three people (without power) and it’s two or three broke poles and it’s going to take a crew all day, we’re going to be putting that crew on an all-day job that’s going to get 800 back on before we do 80 or before we do 8.”
“I have this conversation with people and generally I think we can agree. We manage storms about like you would if you were in charge. If you had limited resources, you would take ’em and send them to your largest outages and that’s exactly what we do.”