After a disaster strikes, a caravan of utility trucks headed toward the affected area can be a common sight. These bucket trucks are likely traveling to help their fellow electric utility crews get the power back on.
Restoration of electricity after a major incident can be a complex task, with crews needing to perform the work safely and efficiently. Public utilities in South Carolina have the option to participate in mutual aid programs among public power utilities to help get the power back on as soon as possible following storms and other disasters.
Members of a mutual aid program can aid other utilities, or may request assistance in times of need. Accepting mutual assistance is an essential part of an electric utility’s restoration process and continuity planning, especially when the workers or special equipment needed to restore power is more than a utility can handle.
Utilities must be sure that they understand how the mutual aid system works, including whom to contact and how to request resources. The hosting and responding utilities should exchange key information prior to deployments, such as
- baseline safety practices,
- work standards for primary workers,
- primary voltage that can be energized when gloved,
- contact information for management staff and safety officers,
- any workday limitations,
- workers’ compensation and insurance requirements, and
- any other special considerations.
As utilities get ready to ask for mutual aid, they must conduct effective damage assessments quickly to determine what resources are needed. Before borrowed workers go out to rebuild power lines, replace power poles and restore electricity, the safety officer of the hosting utility should meet with the assisting crew to go over safety protocols and provide necessary training. They should also ensure that the assisting crew members have proper personal protective equipment before deploying to the work site. Also, an employee of the host utility should pair up with each assisting crew, as the host utility employees are familiar with the service area. Host utilities must also provide for the logistical needs of incoming mutual aid crews.
Public utilities often help each other during times of widespread outages. By sharing resources, public utilities reduce the risk and costs related to restoring power after a major outage. Planning and preparing for mutual aid operations before a disaster can help utilities restore power more quickly after the disaster strikes.