Before March 24, Twin County Electric members were lucky.
“The last time we needed other co-ops to come in to help us restore power was in 1998,” Twin County Electric General Manager Tim Perkins said recently while sitting behind his Hollandale office desk.
Perkins said his co-op has dodged some bad storms over the years.
Usually, he was the general manager sending his lineman crews and equipment to help other cooperatives restore power following rough weather.
That changed on March 24 when a deadly EF3 tornado ripped through the Rolling Fork and Silver City areas leaving behind twisted wreckage, uprooted houses and businesses, and miles of rural destruction. Twin County’s Rolling Fork office was one of the businesses hit hard.
“I can tell you, as a co-op general manager, you want to be the one sending help to others. You don’t want to have others come to help you,” Perkins said.
But that’s exactly what happened on the evening of March 24, which was the same night Amory in Monroe County Electric’s service area was hit hard by a tornado.
“The March storm began wreaking havoc from a path that began at the Wren community which is located at the northwest section of our service area. The tornado continued on a northeastern path throughout our service area until it reached the northeast section of our territory located in Itawamba County. The tornado path spanned a distance of approximately 20 miles,” Monroe County Electric General Manager Barry Rowland said.
Electric co-ops operate on seven core principles. One of those is “Cooperation among Cooperatives.”
Mutual aid between cooperatives during these disasters is critical to restoring power quickly and safely.
For Twin County, Northcentral Electric and Yazoo Valley Electric sent crews to help restore power. Twin County also had help from a local, non-co-op contractor. Monroe County had help from five cooperatives — Prentiss County Electric, Natchez Trace, 4-County Electric, Pontotoc County Electric, and Tombigbee Electric.
“The help of neighboring cooperatives to rebuild and restore utility service is vital. Because the damage caused by this storm was so extensive, the time taken to rebuild and restore services with only our personnel would have taken a considerably longer amount of time. The help of additional skilled personnel and heavy equipment is invaluable during times like these,” Rowland said.
The man who orchestrates mutual aid for the state’s co-ops is Gerald Gordon, vice president of safety and loss control at the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi.
Gordon’s work started days before the tornadoes hit when he was notified by storm experts that bad weather was expected to be in the state on March 24.
The help of neighboring cooperatives to rebuild and restore utility service is vital. Because the damage caused by this storm was so extensive, the time taken to rebuild and restore services with only our personnel would have taken a considerably longer amount of time. The help of additional skilled personnel and heavy equipment is invaluable during times like these.
“I basically send an email to the co-ops asking them what and who can they send to other co-ops if they aren’t impacted by the weather,” Gordon said.
The toughest challenge during the March 24 tornado restoration?
“Housing, housing, housing,” Gordon said.
For Twin County, there was one local hotel in their service area that was small and filled up fast. Northcentral’s crews were able to stay there, Gordon said.
Because Yazoo Valley Electric’s crews — based in Yazoo City — were close, they could help, but drive to their homes after their shifts.
Monroe County had the same issue, but the five co-ops that helped them were all close enough that crews could drive back and forth from the work site to home.
Perkins was out on the scene in Rolling Fork right after the tornado.
Sometimes mutual aid comes not just from co-ops, but from members of the community.
“It was good to see so many people out there helping everyone. The speed that people mobilized was incredible. That’s the thing about Mississippi. People will always be there to help,” Perkins said.
March 24 Tornadoes By The Numbers
Poles down: 450
Meters out: 2,800
Power restored to members who could get it: March 31.
Poles down: 230
Meters out: 5,000
Power restored to members who could get it: March 31.
How mutual aid works
Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi Vice President of Safety and Loss Control Gerald Gordon:
“Mutual aid, or storm work, is pretty straightforward. The observation of the weather is the “cloud” that hangs over every mutual aid manager. The three major storm events begin differently but have a similar process once mobilization of personnel and equipment is underway.
There’s ice, tornadoes, and hurricanes.
The response to each one of these events begins with collecting damage reports. How many lights are off? How many poles are broken? Do we have enough wire, transformers, or reclosures? The answers to these questions will give us an idea of how long to expect our men and equipment to be away from home.
We first request help from any electric co-ops inside our state that were not impacted by the inclement weather. If there is a need for more help, we activate the nationwide network of mutual aid managers which provides access to thousands of professional linemen and various types of equipment and material.
There is often a balance to be found between the amount of help that the cooperative would like to receive and the amount that they can accommodate. Providing a clean and safe place to sleep and enough meals for grown men working 16-hour days can be quite an undertaking.
As the poles go back up and the lights come back on, linemen are released and sent back home. Large crews are no longer needed when only service taps and smaller jobs remain. Once everyone is home, they rest up, restock the trucks, and do it all again at home or where the next job calls.”