A tornado, measuring more than a mile wide, spun through Oklahoma after midnight on April 20, inflicting damage and destruction to the Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) service territory. In response, the electric company mobilized nearly 3,000 people to work 24/7 to restore power.
In the aftermath of the twister, which hit Norman and Shawnee, Oklahoma, crews cleared debris, damaged structures and downed trees. The tornado splintered and knocked down more than 600 power poles and destroyed 110 transmission structures, crossarms and other equipment attached to the poles.
At the peak of the storm, OG&E reported 23,000 outages, but the crews worked around the clock to restore power and energize customers. Due to the tireless work of the line crews and support teams, power was restored to 70 percent of the customers within 72 hours and to all the impacted customers in less than a week. Here’s a look at the work behind the restoration effort in April 2023.
Following the tornado, crews relied upon both aerial and ground patrols to assess damage and destruction to OG&E’s infrastructure, says Aaron Cooper, OG&E manager of corporate communications.
“We used different interactive assessment tools to gather real-time data on damage,” Cooper says. “The assessors and troubleshooters captured data while evaluating the damage. This data enabled the operations leadership to quickly allocate appropriate resources.”
With this information, the supply chain team could then start to source and deliver the required materials and supplies, and the vegetation management team could dispatch vegetation crews to clear trees and debris. The engineering team also used the data for design purposes. Additionally, OG&E used Google Earth to evaluate site accessibility and traffic control requirements.
To further expedite restoration, OG&E launched a new application to manage storms. Teams can document issues in real time and in one centralized location with the geospatial tool, which identified customers unable to receive power during the assessment process.
“With the application, teams uploaded images of damaged equipment and avoided the need for multiple truck rolls,” Cooper says. “This method allowed us to more accurately plan for expected service work during restoration and reduced calls to our customer service center.”
Once the restoration was in full swing, OG&E brought in 2,500 contractor resources from across the United States to help with the restoration.
“A majority of our leadership team was boots on the ground in the field coordinating and overseeing the 3,000 restoration personnel we had actively working to restore power to our customers,” Cooper says.
Setting up the staging sites rapidly and laying out a solid logistics plan was crucial to achieving success, he says. “Because the damage from the tornado was so severe,
the storm response required significant resources,” Cooper says. “The high demand for materials, particularly poles, necessitated the acquisition of multiple staging sites.”
Because restoration efforts wrapped up more than 48 hours earlier than predicted, OG&E donated the remaining food and other supplies from the staging sites in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to the local food bank.
“It was an extraordinary team effort with the Shawnee community,” he says. “We want to thank Mayor Bolt, all the elected officials and our community partners who worked together to restore power and aid the Shawnee community.”
Focusing on Safety
OG&E line crews leveraged the use of various equipment including backyard buckets, diggers, track machines and skid steers to access work sites safely and perform work effectively.
In the aftermath of the tornado, OG&E activated its Incident Command System, which guided the company’s processes and procedures for the restoration. To further increase safety during the restoration, the team participated in safety meetings to discuss possible hazards and share lessons learned from the previous day.
Before starting any work, the crews also conducted tailboard conferences to identify all potential hazards and devise strategies to mitigate them.
“Our top priority is always safety first,” Cooper says. “Since we experience severe weather frequently in Oklahoma, our team is well prepared to work under such conditions.”
Honoring the Storm Response
To honor the electric company for its response to not only the April 2023 tornado, but also a February 2023 storm, Edison Electric Institute (EEI) honored OG&E with two 2023 Emergency Response Awards.
Just a few months before the tornado hit, severe storms rolled into OG&E’s service area, causing significant wind damage to Norman, Shawnee and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. More than 2,500 personnel restored service to homes and businesses following repairs to the grid, including replacing downed power lines, more than 350 broken power poles and other equipment attached to poles.
“I am proud of our team’s great work in restoring power following these significant weather events and appreciate EEI’s recognition,” says Sean Trauschke, OGE Energy Corp. chairman, president and CEO. “OG&E energizes life for the communities we serve, and we help our neighbors when we can. We appreciate the communities we serve each day for their support for our hardworking employees.”
The EEI awards recognize electric companies’ recovery and assistance efforts following service disruptions caused by extreme weather or natural events. A panel of judges selected the winners following an international nomination process. Tom Kuhn, EEI president and CEO, says ensuring the safety of customers, communities and crews is the industry’s top priority, and safety is especially critical during severe storms and extreme weather events.
“I commend OG&E’s commitment to restoring service for its customers safely and efficiently under challenging conditions following the devastating tornadoes in both Norman and Shawnee,” he says. “OG&E and its storm response team are extremely deserving of this national recognition, and I am honored to present them with this well-earned recovery award.”
Editor’s Note: To see more images from OG&E’s tornado restoration, see our gallery at tdworld.com: https://tdworld.com/