South Carolinians dodged significant damage from Hurricane Irma in September. Georgia and Florida were not as lucky.
Electric linemen from the City of Rock Hill, one of the state's 21 "electric cities" belonging to the South Carolina Association of Municipal Power Systems, assisted linemen in Florida after receiving help in South Carolina from other utilities' linemen after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Photos: Mike Jolly.
That meant that members of the South Carolina Association of Municipal Power Systems had the opportunity to return the favor of mutual aid assistance that they received a year earlier in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Mutual aid is the rapid and reliable mobilizing of manpower, equipment and materials by unaffected municipal electric utilities to help affected utilities recover from the impacts of severe weather events. In short, mutual aid is an essential component of a disaster recovery plan.
"The DPU felt fortunate to be able to assist the citizens of the state of Florida in their hour of need after Hurricane Irma," said Wade Holmes electric division director of the Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities. "Our city sustained heavy damage during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Were it not for the dedicated professionals from the state of Florida and other mutual aid participants, our customers would have sustained significantly longer outages. The opportunity to return the favor means a lot to team DPU and our line workers."
Within days of Irma's landfall, SCAMPS quickly organized and sent a mutual aid response consisting of approximately 66 electric utility employees and equipment to Georgia and Florida.
The bulk of the team, approximately 59 employees, responded to assist the Jacksonville (Florida) Energy Authority restore power in the wake of hurricane- force winds and severe storm surge.
The crews in Florida endured long work hours, difficult working conditions and temporary housing for approximately one week while helping affected utilities. The effort of the SCAMPS crews did not go unappreciated.
The City of Rock Hill's electric linemen joined other members of SCAMPS in the mutual aid effort in Jacksonville, Florida, after Hurricane Irma in September. Photo: Mike Jolly.
"Thanks to your guy's (sic) hard work, my family has power again in Jacksonville. Thank you so much," Florida resident Will Lomax tweeted on September 15. The balance of the SCAMPS team traveled to central Georgia assisting the cities of Sandersville and Conyers in repairing their systems.
As a benefit for its members, SCAMPS coordinates an in-state mutual aid assistance network made up of its 21 municipal electric utilities. SCAMPS also participates as a member of the Southeastern States Compact and a national mutual aid program, coordinated by the American Public Power Association, to ensure its readiness to recover from natural disasters.
Severe weather the past few years has triggered an unusually high number of mutual aid activations.
In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew severely damaged the utility systems of several SCAMPS members, resulting in assistance from approximately 140 employees of in-state and out-of-state public power utilities. The out-of-state assistance included crews from Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Nebraska. Much to the relief of the customers of impacted utilities, the additional resources allowed customers to have their power restored in less than a week's time.
Mutual aid, in reality, is all about neighboring utilities helping each other in time of need and understanding the adage that "the person who receives the most favors is the one who knows how to return them."