CEO’s Report: Preparing for Disaster

Mutual aid networks essential to utility operations

National Preparedness Month is recognized each September to promote family and community disaster and emergency planning now and throughout the year. This year’s theme is Prepared, Not Scared.

The campaign primarily addresses citizen preparedness, offering tips about insurance, emergency kits, family communications plans and more.

However, it is not lost on me that the importance of disaster planning is appropriate for municipalities as well. Preparedness can ensure that incident responses are more efficient, effective and safe for employees and the public.

Minnesota crews dispatched in advance of Hurricane Dorian

Public power utility crews arrived in Florida and other parts of the Southeast over the past week in advance of Hurricane Dorian making landfall in the U.S., per a September 2 article from APPA.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) activated its national mutual aid network and was lining up crews to restore power to areas that would be affected by Dorian.

The Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association organized a group of municipal electric crews to send to Florida, part of the larger effort involving the FMEA and APPA.

Fifteen Minnesota municipal utilities pledged to supply 18 crews consisting of 36 lineworkers, 13 bucket trucks, one digger/derrick and several smaller vehicles.

Fortunately for Florida, the hurricane brushed the state with tropical storm conditions and the MMUA utility crews were sent home. The decision was made earlier to pre-stage crews in advance of the storm after crews had difficulty getting to hurricane-damaged areas following previous events.

Other locations were not so lucky as Dorian devastated the Bahamas with winds of 185 miles per hour as a Category 5 hurricane. Dorian is now a Category 2 storm but has expanded in size and is forecasted to make a close approach to the coastline of the Carolinas and could make landfall.

Mutual aid planning resources available for Heartland customers

While a hurricane may never wreak havoc on any Heartland customer communities, another natural disaster or unforeseen event might.

In 2014, a tornado hit Wessington Springs, SD and in 2016, a massive fire broke out and left a large portion of Main Street in ruins in Madelia, MN.

When both disasters hit, other public power communities reached out to help by offering equipment and personnel to make recovery as smooth as possible.

Neighbors helping neighbors happens all the time and without a formal agreement in place between two entities. However, having a mutual aid agreement can speed up the process when unfortunate circumstances arise, allowing utility employees to focus on the task of power restoration and helping to recover more quickly.

The American Public Power Association offers a public power Mutual Aid Network to get or give help to other utilities and coordinate with authorities during widespread power outages. To join, your utility simply has to complete the Mutual Aid Agreement and email it to mutualaid@publicpower.org.

If your utility isn’t currently part of this network, I would highly encourage you to join. It doesn’t cost anything to join and will allow for quick response should disaster strike.

APPA offers several other resources including a best practices guidebook, a mutual aid playbook and the All-Hazards Guidebook. Each resource is designed to help utilities prepare for a disaster providing tips and best practices. The Storm Communications Guide offers tips to communicate effectively during an event, including press releases, social media posts and more.

Each state association also offers mutual aid services. I encourage you to check with your state’s municipal electric association to ensure you are part of their network.

While Heartland may not have lineworkers on staff, there are also many other ways we can assist in the event of a disaster. From manning phones to social media content to lining up assistance from other utilities, we are here to help.

Preparedness is vital

Planning now will make a huge difference if disaster ever does strike your community. While we all like to hope we never need to utilize a disaster response plan, having one is essential to the operation of any utility. In Florida’s case, being over-prepared is always better than not prepared at all.

If you have questions about how to go about setting up a plan, please let us know. We will be happy to guide you through the process.

In the meantime, our thoughts are with all those affected by Hurricane Dorian.