Power companies ready to work hard

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

Hurricane Ivan appears to be on a collision course with the Alabama Gulf Coast, which could mean trouble for Butler County. If Butler County receives the damage from Ivan that is being forecast residents could be in the dark for quite some time.

Both Pioneer Electric and Alabama Power hope to do their best to get customers back under lights as soon as possible. However, this may not be an easy task. With so many customers it could be a while before each service will be able to get to all of them.

Alabama Power public relations director Jan Ellis said she hoped customers would keep this in mind.

&uot;If Ivan strikes on the path it is headed for it could be more devastating than anything we have seen in many years,&uot; said Ellis. &uot;If it is as bad as expected our customers need to think in terms of weeks without power rather than hours or days.&uot;

Terry Wilhite, a representative of Pioneer Electric said they are bracing for tough conditions.

&uot;We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,&uot; said Wilhite.

&uot;That’s what we remind our members to do. Praying is known to work too.&uot;

Wilhite said when the storm hits it may not be pretty. He asked customers to be ready for an ugly scene.

&uot;Expect a twisted mess,&uot; said Wilhite. &uot; It will be common to see snapped poles, powerlines across roadways and perhaps lines draped across vehicles and structures. Stay away from any powerline. They could still be energized, plus any objects nearby.&uot;

Ellis also urged people to stay away from any down lines they may encounter.

&uot;We ask people to stay clear of any down lines they see,&uot; said Ellis. &uot;There are likely to be many lines on the ground and they need to treat them as if they are hot whether they are connected or not. It is best to just leave them alone.&uot;

Many customers for each company reside in mobile homes. Both companies urge these customers to have a plan when the storm strikes. Major wind damage is likely and it is important to have a plan.

Both Pioneer and Alabama Power are aware of how important it is to have a plan of action. Both will be ready if severe damage comes.

&uot;Pioneer Electric crews and our co-op partners from out-of-state will go to work as soon as weather conditions are safe,&uot; said Wilhite. &uot;Our team will assess the damage and triage it, meaning we determine where the hardest hit areas are and what it will take in both manpower, poles and equipment to get power back on. It’s common to see the lights burning on one side of the road and not the other side.&uot;

&uot;We will have workers out as soon as possible,&uot; said Ellis. &uot;We will be in touch with other workers as well to help out.&uot;

Pioneer plans to bring in several out of state workers before the storm to stay ahead of the game.

&uot;In addition to Pioneer’s forces, out-of-state electric cooperative crews will be arriving Wednesday morning,&uot; said Wilhite. &uot;They will be here when the storm strikes. They will not have to drive hours from out-of-state after the storm strikes which greatly helps to reduce Pioneer Electric’s outage time. The crews that will be arriving from out-of-state will be from North Carolina. Some of the trucks and equipment will also be coming from devastated areas in Florida.

They have plenty of experience.&uot;

Ellis said during the storm Alabama Power encouraged people to call and report any outages. She said they would be ready.

&uot;We encourage people to call us at 1-800-888-2726 to report any outages,&uot; said Ellis. &uot;We don’t want them to be alarmed if they get a recording because it will automatically monitor them. Sometimes people get concerned if they do not talk to another person. But if they call we will know.&uot;

Wilhite said Pioneers equipment will also be up and running to track any calls.

&uot;Pioneer Electric Cooperative’s storm response center will be up and running until every member has electricity,&uot; said Wilhite.

&uot;If we are hit head on, as we were with Opal, expect, at some point, to be without electricity. Thousands of people usually call to report power outages at one time. With technology today, Pioneer Electric is actually able to monitor major outages as they occur, so we will probably know about an outage before somebody reaches for the phone. If we could keep the phone lines free for extreme urgent calls, I’m sure those callers would be grateful. Of course, all calls are welcomed. Patience is certainly appreciated too.&uot;

Customers are reminded if a power issue has caused a fire or has caused a potentially life-threatening situation, call 911, not the utility.

Wilhite said Pioneer employees plan to tough it out during the storm.

&uot;Our storm center will be staffed during the storm,&uot; said Wilhite. &uot;Many of our employees will be taking shelter here during the storm; After the storm, all employees will be working. We will staff the facility 24/7 until all members have electricity restored. Our phone systems and computer equipment are being put into &uot;storm mode&uot;, meaning that every available piece of equipment will be devoted to fast power restoration and daily business chores will resume after the storm cleanup concludes.&uot;

Wilhite asked customers to take precautions to make sure lineman working to restore power would be safe.

&uot;If you have a portable generator, do not hook it to your household wiring system unless you have the proper switch to disconnect it from the electric system,&uot; said Wilhite.

&uot;A generator connected without a disconnect switch can backfeed onto the electric system and prove deadly to a lineman.&uot;

Pioneer and CBS 8 in Montgomery have &uot;Safe from the Storm&uot; guides. They include what to do before, during and after the storm. They’re free and available now at any Pioneer or Acme location.

Wilhite also urged customers to take the proper measures to ensure the safety of friends and family members in need.

&uot;If you have a loved one on critical care equipment powered by electricity, now is the time to take action to have plans to move that person to a facility that is equipped with a generator,&uot; said Wilhite. &uot;Expect that if our area is hit full force, that electricity may be off for several days, but rest assured, our crews and out-of-state crews will be working full force to restore power.&uot;