Lives were lost and the town leveled as an unpredictable weather emergency wreaked havoc in just three minutes. Mayfield’s 600,000-gallon elevated water tank once stood here.

Reflecting on a Tragic Night and Resilient Recovery

March 7, 2024
Mayfield Electric & Water Systems navigates devastation and outages during the aftermath of a fatal tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky.

Sometimes warnings are just that: warnings. But sometimes, they are the precursor to disaster.

The town of Mayfield, Kentucky spent the days leading up to Dec. 10, 2021, hearing constant storm warnings, but it had not the slightest idea of what was to come. One of the most devastating weather events to ever take place in the community was on its way.

A tornado with wind speeds reaching up to 190 miles per hour wreaked havoc in Mayfield, claiming the lives of 22 beloved neighbors and friends. The twister demolished nearly 500 homes, businesses and community landmarks, and knocked out power to most residents.

Two years may have passed, but the devastation that surrounded the town will never be forgotten. Emotions span sadness and grief, but also pride.

The aftermath of the tornado was bleak, but also demonstrated pride for the line crews and the volunteers who swarmed the town to lend a hand. Together, they were able to shine a light in such a dark time. Using technology from Sensus, a Xylem brand, the utility implemented a swift power restoration process that led to all power being restored within just one month of the city 
being leveled.

Lessons of the Past

A few things can be credited for this amazing response time and recovery. At the top of the list are the preparedness measures put in place by crews at Mayfield Electric & Water Systems (MEWS). In 2009, the utility experienced a severe ice storm that caused 10,000 people to lose power. The utility’s hands were tied. The crews and support teams didn’t know where to start because they had never prepared for an outage of that magnitude. The recovery efforts taught the team a valuable lesson; be prepared for anything.

After creating a list of challenges, it was important to be honest about the mistakes made during the response and restoration efforts. This spurred ideas for how to be more efficient in the future.

Twelve years later, remembering the lessons learned paid off. Having an emergency response plan already in place was a relief as the utility balanced its grief with outage restoration work in 2021.

Work the Plan

Immediately following the storm, the first part of the plan was to ensure all the employees were okay. MEWS contacted them and reserved 100 hotel rooms in neighboring communities for employees and potential crews who were en route to help with the rebuilding process. It was vital to get them the resources they needed first, so they could serve the rest of our community.

Next, the team evaluated the equipment. Most of it had turned to rubble. The tornado blew out the windows and damaged the roof of MEWS’ main office. The harsh winds wiped out the computers and servers and totaled some of the fleet of bucket and digger trucks.

The town’s collective damage added up to $45 million. At first, it was overwhelming, but hopefulness quickly took over as volunteers from across the country immediately came to the community’s aid.

Compassionate Partnerships

Three days after the tornado, MEWS’s crew numbers had increased by five times with everyone from lineworkers to vendors to complete strangers pitching in. MEWS went from a small utility with 44 full-time employees to more than 200 employees and municipal aid workers. Just housing this many people and feeding them three hot meals a day is an amazing task within itself. The office staff handled this portion of the recovery for about four months each and every day without a hiccup.

Xylem’s Sensus was one of the first groups to call and offer their support. It solidified the fact that our relationship with the smart technology company is not just a transactional one—they’re truly an extension of our team. Xylem engineers visited Mayfield, Kentucky, to ensure that both electric and water meters, along with the FlexNet communication network, continued robust and reliable operations. Other employees volunteered to assist MEWS with massive cleanup efforts. The camaraderie experienced during this time called to mind the values the utility industry embodies.

The utility’s advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and meter data management (MDM) system can also be credited for the successful recovery. MEWS remotely tracked when power was restored at specific locations. The data management system’s visual graphs mapped out the progress and provided the team with on-the-ground knowedge in near-real-time that allowed the employees to prioritize their remaining workload.

West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative, another neighboring utility that experienced the same tornado, assisted MEWS in power restoration efforts. Just five days after the tornado touched down, the utility had all three circuits operating and restored power to the local hospital. After one week, the substation was back online, and in two weeks, more than 80 percent of the city was reenergized.

The Perfect Formula

The pace at which this process moved was astounding given the desolation. MEWS had the perfect formula for addressing such a large-scale weather emergency: a plan + the FlexNet communication system + the kindness and aid of those in the utility industry.

Perhaps most importantly, was the Mayfield Electric & Water Systems team. Their neighborhoods and homes came crumbling down around them, yet they worked tirelessly to serve the community and rebuild power and water access. Their precision and discipline were vital to the recovery efforts, and we are blessed to have such an amazing staff.

Just like we did in 2009, MEWS continues to learn from this weather event in 2021. The utility now has a thoroughly documented crisis response plan in place. While we hope we never see anything like it again, we’ll be ready. 

Marty T. Ivy, C.P.E., ([email protected]) is Mayfield Electric & Water Systems’ general superintendent. He oversees day-to-day operations that contribute to community growth and progress. Ivy is in his 23rd year leading the utility and serves on several boards including the Kentucky Municipal Utilities Association and Kentucky Public Power Association. He is a graduate of Murray State University.

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