Historic damage spurs innovative response
When Hurricane Irene unleashed a torrent of water into creeks, streams and rivers across central and southern Vermont, it also spurred the largest recovery effort in the history of Central Vermont Public Service. But the recovery effort actually began days earlier.
Following the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared
Long before Hurricane Irene dumped up to 9 inches of rain across CVPS’s service territory, Central Scheduling Manager Scott Massie and his team were making calls for help. With private forecasts raising the possibility of historic devastation, CVPS was on edge and preparing for the worst. But virtually every utility on the East Coast was gearing up for the storm, and outside contractors were in short supply.
Massie reached far to the west – to Missouri, Texas and Illinois, and north to Ontario – contacting utilities and contractors that might be available to come east. Before the storm struck, he lined up hundreds of outside contractors and mutual aide workers, a feat that paid dividends as CVPS recovered from the worst flooding to hit Vermont since 1927.
CVPS spokesman Steve Costello jokingly introduced Massie to one reporter on Monday as the “most important man in Vermont.” But Massie, a former lineman who now heads CVPS’s field schedulers, pooh-poohed the introduction, saying he was just one cog in the wheels. “Getting the resources and managing them is important, but it’s the people in the field who are the real heroes,” Massie said.
While orchestrating CVPS’s overall storm response, Massie lent a hand to the entire region, leading daily calls of the New England Mutual Assistance Group, the utility organization that orchestrates the sharing of crews during major storm recovery efforts. As of 9 a.m. Friday, NEMAG members in other states were still looking for 700 line crews to help restore service to more than 300,000 customers without service.
Operations supervisor “is a hero”
A CVPS operations supervisor is being hailed as a hero for a decision that may have saved several lives near the start of the storm.
Hundreds of workers were scattered around rural towns, working on the earliest outages on Sunday, when the rain began to fall hard in the south. Brattleboro Operations Supervisor Dave Miller, who joined CVPS as an apprentice line worker 40 years ago, decided to call in his local crews, because he thought conditions were becoming unsafe.
His decision led minutes later to a call to bring in all CVPS field personnel, unless they were dealing with critical emergencies, until conditions improved.
Within an hour, hundreds of roads across the state began to wash away – along with power lines CVPS crews had been working on prior to Miller’s call.
“If Dave hadn’t decided to pull in his crews when he did, there’s no doubt in my mind that we would have had several fatalities,” said co-worker Chris Gandin. “I think Dave Miller is a hero. His decision saved some lives.”
For his part, Miller said he was just doing his job. “Safety has to be the first item on the list when we plan storm recovery,” Miller said. “That starts with good training and good people.”
Getting there from here takes ingenuity
When entire towns and dozens of neighborhoods became isolated, employees looked for new ways to get in to see the damage so recovery plans could be made.
CVPS routinely uses helicopters to assess high-voltage transmission lines following storms, but employees used whatever they had to get past washouts and bridges to survey smaller lines and road damage.
Chief Engineer Greg White hiked five miles to get into Rochester so he could evaluate the damage to a key substation long before roads reopened, while Royalton Operations Supervisor Ben Bemis rode his off-road motorcycle to look at damage. A fixed-wing plane was used to take a look at road damage in some areas, while other employees set out on bicycles to do assessment where no other vehicles could go.
Forestry Manager Duane Dickinson and meter readers Tim Madore and Charlie Daigneault rode mountain bikes into the backside of Wardsboro, West Jamaica and East Dover after all usual access routes were washed out.
“We had to actually fjord the rivers,” Dickinson said. “We carried the bikes over our shoulders and got back in wherever we could. The local folks were really helpful, pointing out alternate access routes like ATV trails.”
Still, there remain places that are simply inaccessible thanks to washouts, landslides and debris.
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