Mobilized for Battle

Dec. 1, 2008
Hurricane season always keeps coastal utilities on edge. Oncor was especially skittish this year, because it had been hard hit by Hurricane Rita in 2005.

Hurricane Season Always Keeps Coastal Utilities on Edge. Oncor was especially skittish this year, because it had been hard hit by Hurricane Rita in 2005. In mid-September, Oncor employees watched and prepared as Hurricane Ike made his way into the Gulf of Mexico. As incredible as it may seem, Hurricane Ike was following a path that was eerily similar to Rita.

Oncor's storm team was called to duty and on the ready when, on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike came ashore at 2:10 a.m., hitting the city of Galveston, Texas. Tropical-force winds were felt up to 275 miles from the center, and hurricane-force winds extended 120 miles from the center.

As of 10:30 a.m., more than eight hours after landfall, Ike still had hurricane-force winds extending up to 45 miles from the center. The storm tracked just to the west of Lufkin, Texas, placing the city on the strong side of the hurricane as it moved slowly to the north. Between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Ike continued to weaken and turn to the northeast. By 12:30 p.m., Hurricane Ike had been downgraded to a tropical storm and was approaching the city of Palestine. By 4 p.m., Ike had passed over Tyler and continued northeast. Official peak wind speeds measured in Oncor service territories, as reported from Lufkin to Longview, ranged from 69 mph to 56 mph. Consistent rainfall totals approached 3 inches in the general path of the storm as it passed through east Texas.

The cities most affected by Ike in the Oncor service territory included Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Jacksonville, Whitehouse, Tyler, Palestine, Buffalo, Crockett and Athens. High winds and trees falling into lines caused the majority of the damage. On the afternoon of Sept. 13, at the height of the storm, 108,977 customers experienced power interruptions. But by Sunday evening, Sept. 21, all customers who could accept service were restored.

To properly respond to the large-scale damage Ike delivered to the Oncor power-delivery system required long-term planning, having the right partnerships in place and the passion to safely do what it takes to get customers back on-line.

Of course, Oncor has a robust emergency-preparedness program, but it is one thing to assign storm duties and quite another to be prepared and ready to go. Oncor has a history of helping other utilities in times of duress. And in its service territory, Oncor has been the recipient of assistance, as well.


But there is something about hurricanes. Maybe it is because there is so much time to ponder where a hurricane will hit landfall and to watch as the strength of the hurricane builds and wanes as it makes its way from the Atlantic to the Caribbean to land. And the more likely it is that the hurricane will hit a utility service territory, the more animated and active utility personnel become.

In Oncor's case, two days before Ike hit land, the utility decided to create four major restoration districts. Logistics personnel came in right after Ike passed through and set up staging areas, starting in Lufkin and working their way to the north. Of course, the level of damage must be assessed, the number of crews calculated and required materials determined. Individuals were dispatched early on. They forwarded their damage assessments to logistics personnel, who made sure wire, poles, crossarms and insulators were available. Line and tree trimming crews were dispatched to the four restoration districts on Sept. 13.

An incident commander was responsible for each restoration district, which had an assigned workforce consisting of damage evaluators, linemen, community relations and administrative personnel. Logistical support personnel also were assigned to each location. A total of 13 staging areas were used for base camps, fueling and material sites, and overnight accommodations.

To give an idea of the magnitude of the effort to bring the distribution system back, 3751 spans of primary and 1591 spans of secondary were restored, requiring the replacement of 658 poles, 649 crossarms and 336 transformers. A total of 1110 secondary services were replaced to individual homes and businesses.

To give an idea of the magnitude of the logistics effort required to support the crews, 69,468 bottles of water, 82,158 bottles of Gatorade, 290,325 pounds of ice and 76,000 gallons of fuel were consumed. More than 50,000 meals were served to line and tree-trimming crews over the course of the restoration effort.

Of course, linemen need materials if they are to rebuild the tattered system, and the Oncor logistics team was prepared to deliver a constant flow of supplies to the front lines. The numbers of materials consumed in the rebuilding of the Oncor distribution system were significant. Oncor installed 49,353 ft of cable and 41,985 lbs of wire using 74,880 connectors. More than 3500 insulators were replaced using 4950 insulator pins. A total of 769 fused cutouts were installed and 8041 fuse links were installed.

On the transmission system, 18 Oncor transmission lines were affected. Sixty incidents were reported where trees fell across transmission lines. Eighteen structures were damaged with 10 wood poles and eight crossarms replaced. By asset class, seven 69-kV lines were impacted, as were ten 138-kV lines and one 345-kV line, cutting power to 25 substations and 52 feeder circuits. Within 24 hours, 12 of these substations were back in service. Power was restored to an additional 11 substations within 36 hours. The last two stations were back on-line in 39 hours and 54 hours, respectively.

Looking at the manpower resources, Oncor relied on 780 employees who were called on for storm duty. An additional 1712 contract line workers and 1164 tree trimmers helped bring the power back.

On-site support requires many services that would not be required under normal working conditions. For example, with cell towers out, communications equipment and technicians were needed at each staging area. On-site facilities were set up to provide bedding, showers, restrooms and laundry services. On the logistics side, 219 Oncor employees worked with 705 contract employees to set up, operate and tear down facilities, while maintaining the materials supply chain.

Oncor has responded to storm damage many times in the past. Although Hurricane Rita in 2005 had taken an almost identical path through Oncor's service territory, Hurricane Ike proved to be more damaging than Rita, causing about 15,000 more outages. Even though Ike delivered more damage to the system, the response times were similar.


As part of Oncor's participation in mutual assistance, once its customers were restored in east Texas, it sent a large contingency of Oncor employees and contractors to CenterPoint's Deer Park area on the east side of Houston. Because Oncor has a self-contained storm team, it was relatively painless to move facilities to Deer Park without further taxing CenterPoint's logistics team.

Of course, utilities would prefer that hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms and floods never visit their service territory, but that is not realistic. Instead, utilities must be prepared when disaster strikes. As in the past, Oncor stands ready to help those in need. And when the next major weather event hits its service territory, Oncor will again call on the vendor, contractor and utility community to assist it in restoring service to its treasured customers in a cost-effective and timely manner.


Oncor experienced minimum interruptions in obtaining supplies to respond to the damage caused by Ike. In large part, this was attributed to the long-term relationships with vendors and contractors. In many instances, Oncor already had well-defined, properly functioning alliance agreements in place.

On the contractor side, Oncor has an alliance agreement with InfrastruX Energy Services to provide design, construction and maintenance services. These crews were dispatched to the Hurricane Ike-affected areas of Oncor's service territory, as were other contract and line crews who were called in to perform repairs on the system.

On the materials and equipment side, Oncor has alliance agreements with Hubbell and S&C Electric Co., which proved to be indispensable. For example, S&C overnighted a shipment of supplies that enabled Oncor to maintain crew work schedules. Oncor also has an agreement with ABB/Power Partners for single-phase pole-mounted transformers. In this agreement, the transformers are stored in Oncor facilities, but are not paid for until they are actually installed.

Under an alliance, HD Supply operates Oncor's main warehouse in Dallas. HD Supply also provides some procurement services. Wood poles are presently purchased from Thomason and from Lufkin Creosote, and Oncor is looking to enter into longer-term agreements with its pole vendors.

On the wire and cable side, Oncor presently purchases from Southwire and General Cable and is in negotiations that should work into an alliance agreement on wire and cable.

Long term, Oncor intends to enter into more strategic sourcing agreements that provide favorable performance measures, guaranteed lead times, and favorable pricing and volume expectations. In turn, alliance vendors become the sole or primary source for materials, which provides a base load for the manufacturing facilities of alliance partners.

James Mining is the senior director of T&D Supply Chain for Oncor Electric Delivery, responsible for supply chain management, strategic sourcing, supplier diversity, equipment repair shop, real estate and facilities management. During storm response, Mining is responsible for logistics and was on-site in the Lufkin and Deer Park staging areas. He has held numerous technical and management positions within Oncor over a 40-year career, which began as a co-op student. [email protected]

Rick Chapman is the director of Southeast Region Distribution Operations for Oncor. He has held numerous technical and management positions within Oncor over a 34-year career, which began as a meter technician. During Ike storm response, Chapman was the incident commander over the Tyler, Texas, restoration district. [email protected]

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