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First steps for electric cooperatives: damage assessments

Power outages as of 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016

Power restoration starts with damage assessments after the storm passes, but storm damage can be a significant challenge to accomplishing those assessments. That’s one message that becomes clear as operations managers from electric cooperatives across South Carolina met by conference call this morning.

“Electricity repair crews face the same physical limitations as anyone,” said Todd Carter, vice president of loss control and training with the state association of electric cooperatives. “It’s not all electronic. You have to get out there to see it.” Carter’s department coordinates incoming repair crews from electric cooperates across the state and across the Southeast.

The conference call, held multiple times per day, helps the states 20 independent electric cooperatives coordinate their work. It’s the culmination of intense planning and well-worn experience that puts operations personnel into a calculated rythmn of the restoration process.

“It’s a challenge for us, if not impossible, just to drive through some areas to make damage assessments,” said Black River Electric Cooperative CEO Charlie Allen from his Sumter office, “and we’re not even in the direct path of the storm.”

“I wouldn’t want to see them out there in this kind of weather,” said Clint Smoak, manager of operations at Edisto Electric Cooperative in Bamberg, referring to state highway crews who will assist utilities in clearing roads to allow access to damaged areas.

Storms such as Hurricane Matthew provide dramatic pictures, but electric cooperative managers and consumer-members also find drama in a live outage map at www.ecsc.org.

“You watch the colors (indicating number of outages) on the outage map creep up and up and up,” said Smoak, “and you know the storm is moving northward as more people lose power. You look at that map with the weather radar images of the swirling storm, and its just a silent monster. Then you go outside and you’re reminded it’s not silent at all.”

Electric cooperatives have staged hundreds out-of-state repair crews and equipment west and north of the South Carolina, and as soon as the storm passes, they will begin their trek to damaged areas to assist affected cooperatives.

“We don’t like waiting. We’d rather be in the field putting the power back on,” said Carter. “But we’ll be there as soon as we can.”

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During Hurricane Matthew, real-time outage information—by county or by electric cooperative—is available at www.ecsc.org.

Electric cooperatives build and maintain the state's largest power-distribution system. More than 74,000 miles of co-op power lines cover 70 percent of the state — more than all the other utilities in S.C. combined.

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