Even before the snow and winds picked up Friday, National Grid was prepared for power outages due to Blizzard Nemo.
“We train for this constantly,” explains David Graves, spokesperson for National Grid. “With storms like this, you have warning. You can see it coming. You have multiple days to plan.”
Planning began three days before the storm when contracting companies from across the country were called to bring extra crews to the New England region. Line crews and tree crews from 26 states, including Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana and two Canadian provinces, began arriving as early as Friday afternoon and continued to arrive throughout the weekend.
In addition to contracting outside companies, National Grid was responsible for finding places for the two- to four-person crews to stay while in the region.
“We had staging areas for their vehicles; one at CCRI in Warwick and another at Twin River in Lincoln. We tried to find hotels in the area to stay near there,” says Graves.
In total, approximately 450 line crews and in excess of 200 tree crews worked throughout the region to restore power, with additional crews checking reports of outages and performing damage assessments. Behind the scenes, all National Grid employees had their roles to play. Employees were involved in the planning and logistics of the situation, along with workers in local dispatch rooms serving 12-hour shifts throughout the weekend.
“We have 850 employees in Rhode Island alone. Everyone at National Grid has a storm job that is separate from their office job,” says Graves.
Reports of power outages began around 5 p.m. on Friday. The peak of the power outage occurred at 7 a.m. on Saturday, with 187,263 outages reported at that time. The majority of outages were in the southern half of the state, where the snow was denser.
Due to high winds and heavy snow, crews were unable to get on the streets until 9 a.m. on Saturday. Once repair work began, the crews had to work as a team to get power back to customers as soon as possible.
“Forestry goes in first, then we would get any wires out of the way, then the line crew comes in,” explains Graves. Snow removal became one of the main tasks faced by workers because snow had to be cleared not only from streets but also from the poles and equipment before repairs could be made.
In addition to the dangers of working with electricity, crews faced harsh weather conditions throughout Saturday afternoon and evening. Crews had to work through continuous falling snow and bitter cold, wearing layers of heavy winter clothes in addition to their protective rubber clothing. Freezing temperatures lead to icy conditions and the risk of slip and fall accidents for workers.
Road conditions also proved difficult for electrical workers throughout the storm. Travel time was considerably longer due to blowing snow and unplowed roads. At work sites, narrow streets lead to dangerous conditions for those on foot. Although safety zones were set up around work sites, there was still danger from passing drivers due to low visibility.
Despite the risks, crews worked through the weekend to restore power. A total of 212,848 power outages were reported through the duration of the storm, and as of Tuesday afternoon, there were less than 300 customers remaining without power across the state.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian praised the work of National Grid throughout the storm.
“National Grid employees worked diligently and enthusiastically on behalf of restoring power to the people of Warwick that were affected by the blizzard. In bad weather conditions, they were able to restore power to thousands of homes in our city,” Avedisian said in an email.
“At the height of the storm, more than 9,000 homes in Warwick were without power. As of this morning [Tuesday], there were less than ten homes without power. Special thanks to Mike Ryan, Marisa Albanese, and Tim Horan for their willingness to field all of my phone calls.”
National Grid will now perform a post-storm assessment to determine what aspects of their recovery worked and which ones need to be altered before the next big storm. Contracted crews from distant states began to leave New England as early as Monday evening, but a number of them will remain to assist with sweeps to ensure there is no remaining damage and the system is back to its optimum working condition.
Graves said it would be months before National Grid knows the cost of the blizzard. If it is any guide, Hurricane Irene that occurred in 2011 cost $33 million. That storm wiped out a $22 million reserve that is now in the process of being rebuilt through customer rates.
Graves asks that if any National Grid customers still without power notice neighbors with restored power, call 1-800-465-1212 to report the situation.