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Today is June 4, 2020


Cooperation is key to restoring power quickly in an emergency

By Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan
Michael Callahan,
Executive Vice President/CEO
EPAs of Mississippi

Cooperation is the best way to get things done.

That’s especially true when it comes to restoring electric service in the wake of a hurricane, tornado, ice storm or other disaster.

Electric cooperatives have a long history of joining forces to rebuild storm-damaged electric distribution systems, thus restoring their members’ service faster without sacrificing the safety of their crews and the public.

We’re good at this work, yet we never stop looking for ways to improve our emergency preparedness and response efforts.

For this reason, Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi (ECM) each year hosts an emergency work plan meeting. Electric cooperative power-restoration and safety professionals from a dozen states converged at this year’s meeting, held in August.

After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, ECM and its counterparts in Louisiana and Alabama began to meet annually to discuss and plan for mutual assistance in emergencies. We knew there would be much to be gained by sharing experiences—good and bad—among our cooperative network, and by working together to find solutions to challenges confronting all electric utilities in an emergency.

A unique challenge electric cooperatives face, however, stems from the rural nature of our service territories. (Indeed, the very reason not-for-profit electric cooperatives exist is to serve rural areas that for-profit electric utilities had chosen not to serve, due to their questionable profit potential.)

It takes more than 94,000 of miles of power lines to serve all electric cooperative members in Mississippi, and therein lies the challenge: How do you restore power quickly to the folks at the far end of the line when that line snakes through miles of woods and swamps?

In a major storm there are likely to be huge numbers of utility poles broken and power lines down—not to mention roads blocked by fallen trees. In Greenwood-based Delta Electric Power Association’s service territory alone, for example, the 1994 ice storm destroyed some 10,000 utility poles. In only a few hours, ice destroyed what took years to build. Hurricane Katrina did much worse, but you get the idea.

After each disaster, electric cooperatives emerge more knowledgeable and even better prepared. The annual emergency work plan meetings provide the forum we need to share what we’ve learned. The goal is to hone our disaster response and mutual-assistance efforts in coordination with electric cooperatives in other states.

Mutual assistance is invaluable in recovering from widespread power outage emergencies. Our emergency work plan allows us to call in extra line crews and equipment in order to rebuild power lines faster—and to return the favor when cooperatives in other states need our help.

Because the national network of transmission and distribution infrastructure owned by electric cooperatives has been built to federal standards, line crews from any electric cooperative in the country can arrive at an emergency scene in Mississippi (or any other state) and go to work on a familiar electrical system.

Not every disaster will require us to ask for assistance from outside the state. Most of the time, Mississippi’s 26 electric cooperatives can handle emergency repairs by working together.

Should a major storm cripple our electrical system, knocking out your power for an extended period of time, take comfort in knowing Mississippi’s electric cooperatives have an effective, efficient plan of action for getting you back “on” fast.

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