When severe weather strikes, you can rest assured that the crews at New River Electrical are ready to respond. The National Weather Service has surveyed the severe storm that made its way through Ohio in the summer of 2022. The storms brought winds between 80 to 94 mph, with a microburst surface spanning over 2.5 miles. After the storm had subsided, the path of destruction was 24 miles long and 15 miles wide. When disaster hits and the power goes out, New River Electrical has protocols in place to ensure customers and community members won’t be left in the dark for long.
We sat down with Josh McWilliams, Division Manager of Distribution Operations to discuss how NRE helps restore power to the tens of thousands who are left in the dark.
There’s More to It Than Flipping a Switch
The Ohio storms that took place in early June downed so many trees that local law enforcement declared a Level 3 emergency; closing roadways so road crews could clear debris and utility workers could restore power. In all the chaos that ensues with a massive storm, NRE prides itself on having a concrete process in place to assist the communities without power.
After a storm hits, power companies request resources from New River Electrical to assist with storm restoration. Once the team receives the request, NRE builds rosters and begins dispatching crews to the areas where they’re needed most. When the crews arrive on site, they work with local power representatives to locate damaged facilities. “There are times where the damage hasn’t been located by the time our crews arrive,” Josh mentions. “In that scenario, our crews work with local representatives to locate the damage.” Once the damage is found, NRE works with those representatives to obtain the necessary materials and ultimately make repairs.
It Takes a Village
When you think of storm restoration, you may think the group of individuals in safety vests and hardhats are the only ones working to turn on the lights. The truth is that the foremen, journeyman linemen, apprentice linemen, operators, and groundmen aren’t the only ones working to restore your power. It takes a whole team of people off the field to help.
Back in the office, the administrative staff takes care of a number of things like taking data from the field and converting it into usable information for our customers, creating rosters, finding hotel rooms for our crews, and more. Division managers communicate with power companies to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Field management, like general foremen and superintendents, is heavily involved with helping our crews, communicating with customers, and ensuring best safety practices. NRE upholds the highest safety measures throughout any job, but it’s especially important during storm restorations. “Our safety department helps the crews and keeps them safe by finding hazards, communicating, and looking out for them in general,” Josh says.
In addition to the crews on the field and back at the office, NRE also has a Fleet Department that assists with mechanical needs like breakdowns and repairs during storm restorations. The Tooling Department is also key in these situations. “The tooling department helps us get any tools that we might not have on the truck,” Josh mentions. “We don’t take all the tools with us on a typical job since you’re not sure what equipment you’ll need until you assess the damage.” The bulk of the energy is spent out in the field, but there is certainly plenty of work to be done prior to our crews stepping foot on the restoration site, and well after.
Timeline of Storm Restoration
“When a storm hits, it creates something special for everybody,” Josh points out. Every storm is different, but no one can be certain of the scope of damage until our crews are on the scene. However, it is reasonable to account for damaging storms during the heavy seasons which start around May and trail through September.
“The timeline depends on the amount of damage,” says Josh. “Sometimes we’re called after a major storm like Ohio, and sometimes we’re called for something as simple as a single damaged wire.” New River Electrical assists with everything our customers need. Restoration for a community can take anywhere from a week or two, but a less severe scenario can be taken care of in a matter of hours.
Demonstrating Commitment to Safety
Safety is priority number one at New River Electrical. It’s not only a value we live by, but it’s critical in storm restoration. All our crew members stay vigilant when it comes to safety during storm restorations.
“Once the entire crew arrives at the storm restoration scene, the team starts an assessment of the damage,” Josh mentions. “After the work tasks and hazards have been identified by the crew, all crew members participate in a pre-job briefing.” The briefing gives all crew members a chance to identify hazards and weigh in on how best those hazards can be mitigated. This process also allows everyone a chance to understand the work plan and execute it safely. “After the work begins, everyone watches out for each other until the work is finished,” Josh mentions. “Communication is key; it ensures everybody’s safety.”
Ohio Storm Restoration
Ohio’s severe weather wreaked havoc across the state, leaving downed trees, broken power line poles, and damaged power lines all over. The crew at New River Electrical sprang into action and worked with power companies to assess the damage, create a game plan, and restore power to thousands of families.
The full restoration took around two weeks for our crews to complete. While the majority of repairs were completed in the first week, other crews stuck around to tie up loose ends and ensure the safety of our customers. New River Electrical wouldn’t have been able to complete the job in a timely manner if it wasn’t for the crews in the field and off the field. Everyone had a hand in restoring power back to the community.
Gratitude Goes a Long Way
It may come as a surprise, but our crews don’t always receive feedback on our storm restoration efforts after a job is complete. But that wasn’t the case with the storm restoration in Ohio. Our customers provided written and verbal feedback reflecting on the job well done by our storm restoration crew.
NRE received compliments for our storm response, the number of employees we could provide for the restoration, how safety was our top priority, and how timely the team was when it came to communication and restoration. We were able to provide 180 employees and nearly 170 pieces of equipment while working to restore power to our customers. Josh goes on to say, “It’s super nice to get feedback because it always instills a sense of pride in all of us – not just the guys in the field but all the way up to the whole team. It makes us proud of what we’re doing.” NRE makes an effort to forward all customer communications back to the crews in the field in real time.
A Day in the Life of Storm Restoration Crews
While working on storm restoration, we see our fair share of challenges. During the Ohio storm restoration project, our crews worked 16 to 18-hour days at a minimum. In addition, the heat index in Ohio was 105 degrees or hotter on multiple days during the project. “On those hot days, we took breaks throughout the day to discuss safety issues,” Josh mentions. “We reminded the guys to hydrate and to take breaks when they needed to, talked about signs of heat exhaustion, and went over what to do to help in those situations.”
Another challenge our crews faced is the repercussions of the power outage itself. When it’s time for our team to hang up the hat for the day, often times they have to drive an hour or longer before they arrive at a hotel or restaurant that has power. “The day doesn’t stop after the work day ends,” Josh says. “Sometimes our guys have to travel even farther to find lodging due because residents of the area book the hotels nearby.”
The team members at New River Electrical view storm restoration as their responsibility. “It’s not something they’re going to do, it’s something they have to do,” Josh mentions the team’s mindset. The men and women at NRE leave their families behind to travel and restore power for other families, which is a whole other challenge of its own. They put their personal lives on hold to get the job done.
In closing, the storm restoration crews at New River Electrical value helping communities. Josh goes on to say, “If you asked any one of our employees working on restoration, they’d tell you that helping people is their passion. All of these guys look at it as their responsibility; when the lights go off, they turn on.”