Many safety professionals were on the ground throughout the restoration to support crew and community safety and take photos such as this one.
Many safety professionals were on the ground throughout the restoration to support crew and community safety and take photos such as this one.
Many safety professionals were on the ground throughout the restoration to support crew and community safety and take photos such as this one.
Many safety professionals were on the ground throughout the restoration to support crew and community safety and take photos such as this one.
Many safety professionals were on the ground throughout the restoration to support crew and community safety and take photos such as this one.

Derecho Leaves Behind Path of Destruction

Sept. 24, 2020
Alliant Energy crews worked with linemen from across North America to restore power and repair damage following a historic Iowa storm.

A derecho swept through Iowa, toppling power poles and trees and scattering debris throughout Alliant Energy’s service territory in August. Trampolines, backyard toys and outdoor equipment were intertwined with trees, power lines and piles of debris. In some areas, the vegetation removed from the yards was stacked higher than many of the linemen’s trucks stood tall.

The storm damage was unlike anything the line crews and employees had ever seen. Workers from across the United States—including from the East Coast, Florida, Texas and Alabama---and from Canada joined Alliant Energy in its restoration effort.

“Many of these crews typically assist with hurricane efforts, and for them to say this is unlike anything they’ve seen before demonstrates the full magnitude of the destruction,” said Terry Kouba, senior vice president at Alliant Energy and president of the Iowa Utility Company. “Many have compared this storm to a hurricane with up to 140 mph winds in some areas, as declared by the National Weather Service, but without warning, staging or prep time.”

Restoring and Rebuilding

Immediately following the storm, Alliant Energy’s crews began assessing and evaluating the damage and destruction from central to eastern Iowa. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Linn County, which were identified as the storm’s epicenter, were the most severely impacted by the derecho.

Because the damage to infrastructure in Cedar Rapids, Iowa was significant and extensive, the utility worked with many partners, such as ITC Midwest, and many vendors, in order to successfully restore all services. While the utility had a safety stock already on hand, it was not enough for this level of devastation. To restore power swiftly and safely, Alliant Energy leveraged its strong relationships with its primary and secondary suppliers, manufacturers and distributors. For example, Travero (formerly Alliant Energy Transportation) provided support and assistance with transportation and logistics.  

In addition, the company obtained mutual assistance from peer utility companies around the country through networking and the Edison Electric Institute.

“When disaster strikes, this whole industry gathers to turn the lights on,” Kouba says. “We all come together and work as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.”

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Alliant Energy was also joined by crews from the Iowa National Guard, who worked to clear more than 590 city blocks (almost 30 miles) of vegetation including trees and shrubs. In all, they dumped more than 1,400 loads totaling nearly 28 million pounds of debris so workers could re-build and restore power.

In all, more than 2,000 workers replaced more than 3,400 power poles in just two weeks. Normally, this work would take an entire year if that was all the crews were focused on. Following the derecho, hundreds of workers were specifically responsible for tree removal, and the line crews replaced more than 1,200 miles of wire, which is equivalent to the distance across Iowa—from the Illinois border to the Nebraska border—and back again—twice.

“The storm took down many transmission poles during the derecho,” says John Boston, director of engineering at Alliant Energy. “The method of rebuilding them remained the same as other storm events, but the number of resources brought in to do the work was greater than many other storm events — simply due to the magnitude of destruction and the broad path of the storm’s impact.”

Substations were generally not directly impacted by the storm with only a handful sustaining minor damage, but due to the damage to the transmission lines, it took some time to get power restored to the substations as the transmission companies worked to repair or replace their lines. In a few cases, Alliant Energy used a generator in locations where power was not available to get customers energized more quickly. The crews then switched off the generators once the normal source of energy was restored.

To align sources of power to substations that were off line, the company maintained frequent communications with the transmission provider. Also, the crews worked on making restoration of the feeders from the substations a priority.

From the energized substations, the linemen started making repairs to main three-phase lines, which are tied to other substations, then other three-phase lines, then single-phase taps, and finally secondary lines and services. 

“This gets the biggest impact in the shortest time,” Boston says.

Coming Together

Alliant Energy not only had to respond to an unprecedented amount of destruction in its service territory, but also handle the restoration effort during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Customer and employee health and safety are a core value at Alliant Energy,” Kouba says. “Despite the magnitude of the damage, because we’re in the midst of a pandemic, we remained vigilant in our commitment to following safety protocols already in place: social distancing as much as possible and face coverings. We stressed the importance of ‘being here now’ to safely restore services while also reminding employees and all crews the importance of following the CDC’s guidelines so everyone could also return home healthy. While field crews working outside were able to socially distance and stay safe, our people in our Cedar Rapids Operations Office wore face coverings when not able to maintain social distancing.”

In addition, to keep its crews safe during the restoration, Alliant Energy also focused on other key factors such as building a plan, assessing progress, adjusting the plan and maintaining ongoing communication. This was especially challenging as many of the employees were personally impacted by the storms and sustained damage to their homes and property and were without electricity.

“Part of our company’s values are ‘care for others, do the right thing and make things better,’” says Diane Cooke, vice president of human resources at Alliant Energy. “Living our values and demonstrating the commitment to our purpose to serve customers and build strong communities, many of our impacted employees began volunteering in their local communities, helping however they could. And, many of our line workers had damage to their homes too, yet they were completely focused on restoring power to our customers.”

Beyond the employees, Alliant Energy had the outpouring of support, kindness and generosity of its communities and customers.

“The kind words, the social posts, the offers of food, beverages (even laundry) was extremely powerful,” Kouba says. “It was truly appreciated and kept our line workers and all our employees wanting to do all they could to restore service to as many customers as possible each and every day. For 14 days, many of our crews worked 16-hour days, all to deliver on our commitment to restore service to each and every customer. As we look to tomorrow, we will never forget the derecho—and the way we all came together, worked together and powered each other. We are #IowaStrong.”

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