PUD system changes aided storm response

The outage management system adopted by Clallam County Public Utility District two years ago helped preclude endless busy signals and speeded repairs during last month's storms that featured 100-mph winds.

"Three years ago our customers were so frustrated by endless busy signals. This worked out tremendously," said Clallam PUD general manager Doug Nass.

The interactive voice responder identifies the caller's name and address based upon the telephone number on file with Clallam PUD.

When people call, they have a choice to talk with a dispatcher to explain a specific problem or to press a button to report a power outage at the address associated with that number.

The district asked customers to verify their telephone numbers prior to starting the system and received a 90-percent response versus 50-60 percent for other PUDs, Nass said.

2.5K miles of lines

"(The outage reports are) up on a large screen so we can see if a whole area is out," Nass said.

Clallam PUD provides electrical power to 28,500 customers in all of Clallam County except inside the city of Port Angeles.

Its system includes 2,500 miles of power lines spread across 1,700 square miles of Clallam County and 250 square miles of Jefferson County.

Lengthy power outages and overloaded telephone systems during heavy wind and snow storms last November and early December 2006 led to installation of the new system.

"We spent a lot of time getting that match of telephone numbers to addresses because we knew it would pay off when the time came," Nass said.

Hundreds of outages

Clallam PUD employees planned to review last month's storm response at a Dec. 1 meeting to see what could be done better, he said.

An estimated 12,000 customers lost power for some period during the storms but the outages were scattered in 400-500 separate incidents, Nass said.

Two things that made restoring power difficult were broken power poles - that take longer to replace than downed lines - and the downed Bonneville Power Administration line that needed to be fixed before anything else, he said.

Nass said the district's vegetation management program made a difference by removing tree branches that could knock out power lines during a storm.

Besides its contracted tree trimmer, Asplundh, the district has its own tree-trimming crew now, he said.

Soaked to the roots

Last month's storms featured heavy rains that saturated the ground and high winds that knocked over entire trees, not just their branches, Nass said.

The Bonneville line has a 100-foot clearance, versus 10 feet for PUD lines, and still got hit by trees.

Clallam PUD Commissioner Hugh Haffner said those were probably some of the worst storms during his 15 years on the PUD board.

"Normally, we'll lose power lines but maybe only six to eight poles and we lost more than 30 poles this time. Our treasurer tracks this stuff and in the past 16-18 years, losing 30 poles is a lot."

Clallam PUD Commissioner Ted Simpson said the new substation being planned at Simdars and Spyglass roads will allow power to flow to Sequim from different directions. If a line or pole breaks, the power can be rerouted while that outage is located and repaired, he said.

Repair crews lauded

The lights are back on across the county following the recent wind and rain storms but only because of a lights-out performance by Clallam County Public Utility District's repair crews.

"It went well. The crews performed almost superhuman feats," said Simpson.

"They worked for 40 hours straight and then had eight hours off. Then they came back for 16 hours, slept for eight hours and then worked another 40 hours straight," he said.

127 mph winds

Winds at Hurricane Ridge were clocked at 107 mph at 9 p.m. on Nov. 18 and some customers on high mountain roads recorded wind speeds of 127 mph.

The district had six five-person crews working around the clock, Nass said.

"They went the extra mile for our customers. The storms kept us busy and gave our outage management system a good workout. I'm always concerned about safety and our guys had trees falling around them," he said.

Those dangers were highlighted Nov. 18 when state Department of Transportation employee Neal Richards was killed while clearing storm debris west of Port Angeles.

Happy for no snow

Simpson said maybe scheduling can be planned better during the next outage so crews are rotated instead of everyone being off at one time and then on.

Haffner said the recent storms' severity approached that of the November 1996 storms.

"It was not a snowstorm but with the wind and rain it was probably one of the worst storm incidents during my whole time as commissioner," he said.

"I really have to hand it to our crews. They are out risking life and limb.

"And the season just starting, imagine if that rain had been snow?"

Reach Brian Gawley at bgawley@

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