Hurricane places utilities in harm’s way

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Hurricane Isabel, packing winds in excess of 100 miles per hour, is expected to cause widespread problems with utilities here in the Roanoke-Chowan area. Depending upon the severity of the storm, power outages – including disruptions in standard telephone service – could last several days after the hurricane’s passage.

The area’s two major sources of electricity – Dominion NC Power and Roanoke Electric Membership Corporation – have crews standing at the ready to make repairs just as soon as the storm passes. Adding to the local manpower are crews from other areas of North Carolina as well other states not in the projected path of the hurricane.

&uot;Our employees will run round-the-clock to restore service to the members of our cooperative,&uot; said Marshall Cherry of Roanoke Electric. &uot;The phones at our offices are never taken off the hook. If you do experience a power outage, please call the co-op’s outage reporting system at 1-800-358-9437.&uot;

Cherry went on to say that Roanoke Electric communicates on a regular basis with local newspapers, radio and TV stations, sharing the locations of power outages and the estimated times of service restoration.

As the area’s largest electrical service provider, Dominion NC Power will send out crews immediately following the storm. Dominion customers are urged to call 1-888-667-3000 to report power outages.

&uot;Preparations here are brisk and intense as we are attempting to anticipate all the variables associated with the storm and how we can restore power as quickly as possible,&uot; said Dominion NC Power spokesman Chuck Penn.

Penn stated the number one item topping their &uot;to do&uot; list was an immediate storm assessment as soon as the wind and rain subside.

&uot;We’ll have teams out surveying just how intense the damage is,&uot; he noted. &uot;The information they gather will help determine where we need to deploy our resources in the most sufficient manner.&uot;

He continued, &uot;We will first concentrate our efforts on the facilities that are providing critical services during a storm of this magnitude – hospitals, storm shelters and emergency responders such as police, fire and rescue units.&uot;

After that, Penn said work crews would first be assigned to the field operations that would get the largest number of customers back on line at one time followed by power restoration in descending order.

&uot;We have a work force of approximately 7,000 individuals,&uot; stressed Penn. &uot;We have work crews coming in from as far away as Texas, Florida and Ohio to help us restore power to our customers as quickly as possible.&uot;

In order to prevent damage to air conditioning compressors, Dominion officials said it was a wise idea to turn the entire cooling system off once power is lost. After power is restored, turn the system back on. This will prevent a sudden surge of power to a high-voltage system such as a residential air conditioning unit. The same can be said for computers, televisions and other electronic devices.

To help ease the burden of not having electricity, Cherry suggests having the following items: flashlight and portable radio, both with fresh batteries in case of an extended power outage, candles (with holders), matches, a wind-up clock, manual can opener, paper plates and plastic utensils, bottled water and non-perishable food items.

Officials with both companies stressed that power lines and poles may be downed by the high winds. While the power may not yet be restored, they urge citizens to steer clear of these electrical lines and devices and to call the aforementioned telephone numbers to report a downed power line or other malfunctioning electrical power devices, such as transformers.

&uot;Please do not make the mistake of assuming that a power line isn’t energized just because the power is off in that particular area,&uot; said Penn. &uot;My best advice is to stay away from downed or hanging power lines and to report them to us as soon as possible.&uot;

Meanwhile, Sprint asks customers to restrict calls to those considered essential in the event of power outages.

After Isabel makes landfall, especially in areas where electrical power is known to be affected, Sprint asks customers to make only emergency or other essential calls. This preserves battery capacity and gives the company additional time to move backup generators into areas of extended power outages.

Customers are asked to report outages only once, using their local repair service number listed in the Sprint Phone Book.

As Hurricane Isabel moves closer, Sprint personnel across the eastern United States continue to monitor the storm and tailor recovery plans. Sprint’s disaster response planners put personnel across the East and Midwest on alert, in addition to plotting logistics and staging supplemental equipment in strategic locations.

The company also is communicating with local emergency management organizations and community leaders to keep them appraised of Sprint’s capabilities in the face of the storm.

&uot;We are doing everything we can to anticipate the areas that may be most affected, and what additional personnel and equipment resources we may have to provide,&uot; said Steve Parrott, Sprint’s state executive for North and South Carolina. &uot;Our previous experience with hurricanes and our ongoing infrastructure investments have us as well prepared as possible. It’s at times like this that we really count on our skilled and dedicated technicians and other front-line personnel, many of whom live in the hurricane’s path.&uot;

Wireline and wireless outage problems often relate to the loss of commercial electricity and the depletion of backup batteries at switches. Large host offices and many remote offices have backup generators, and the company is moving additional generators into place for dispatch to areas they may be needed after the storm hits. That’s where phone users can help.