Storm Response Team Recounts Challenges from Hurricane Harvey and Irma

Jan. 23, 2018
Preparation tactics, damage evaluation, and resources distributed to maximize efficiency in restoring power

When the forecast calls for an extreme weather event, Southwire’s Storm Response Team is ready.

“These storms are really our moment of truth,” Suzanne Young, Southwire Storm Response Team member, said. “Ensuring our partners have the resources they need to get the power back on is one of the most important things we do.”

Working closely with utilities and customer partners in disaster prone areas, the Southwire Storm Response Team closely monitors daily weather reports to assess the pending impact of natural disasters. The team consists of sales managers, material managers, production planners, plant managers and CSC and plant shipping coordinators who are in constant communication with storm response point managers.

“We forecast what our partners may need before, during and after the storm,” said Matt Street, regional sales manager, Energy South. “The more work we can do on the front end, the more directly we can impact a successful response effort.”

It is often easier said than done, especially when two devastating hurricanes make landfall back to back, as was the case in 2017. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma each presented unique challenges for utilities and the Southwire Storm Team.

Hurricane Harvey

Utilities in areas known for hurricanes have fine-tuned forecasting models for wind damage, so when Harvey dumped a record amount of rain, it was difficult to anticipate exactly how much cable would be needed and what types.

“Typically, the models deal with overhead transmission and distribution. When an overhead line goes down, it’s obvious – you can see it on the ground,” Street said. “Our partners saw a record amount of flooding that also damaged underground lines and substations during Harvey.”

With flooding, it is much more difficult to know exactly what needs to be replaced until the water subsides. Additionally, damage may vary depending on if the flooding was caused by fresh water or salt water. Because of this, utilities had to wait for flood waters to subside before evaluating all the damage.

Because of the flooding, Southwire put underground lines and specialty substation cable into production – types of wire and cable that typically would not be part of a hurricane response until much later in the recovery cycle.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma presented its own challenges. As the provided forecast for the hurricane zigged and zagged its way across Florida, the constant change made it difficult to assess exactly what areas would be most in need. What the Southwire team did know was that it was a large storm that would impact a huge area of land. Because of this, utilities in Florida brought in many additional crews to meet the need, even before the storm made landfall.

The number of crews assembled set records and played a key role in the incredible job done by all to get the power back on as quickly as possible. Determining what to repair first is a triage process, as hospitals and critical care facilities must be prioritized. After that, utilities use very sophisticated systems to determine what repairs will have the most impact and restore power to the most people.

Storm Response

Coordinating the response to these two storms with a company as large as Southwire is no easy task. Major manufacturing assets must be turned over to prioritize storm orders, trucks need to be rerouted to impacted areas and employees work extra shifts to meet the demand. In total, with regards to just these two storms, Southwire devoted four of their plants to storm response and shipped tens of millions of feet of wire and cable.

It’s a process that keeps improving. After each storm, Southwire sits down with utilities and customer partners to get feedback and determine what can be improved on. And it’s not just hurricanes that the team must be prepared for.

“Storm duty can be a full-time job twelve months out of a year,” Street said. “We have to be ready all the time.”

From wildfires in in the West, to ice storms in the North and Midwest, the Southwire Storm Response Team knows it’s always a few weeks away from its next big challenge. With the scale and reach to be able to help across the entire country, Southwire is uniquely positioned to help – thanks to the efforts and effectiveness of the Southwire Storm Response Team.

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