by Joey Crandall, email@example.com Follow @joeycrandall
“Typically when you have a high wind storm or an unusual event of that magnitude, everyone is engaged … What I mean by that is that it is a dangerous situation and everyone has to be on their toes, has to give 100 percent,” Kelly Toulouse, director of energy delivery for the rural districts of NV Energy said. “We don’t really see a lot of equipment damage or injuries in events like what we saw on Friday, because everyone is so engaged.
“They’re on heightened alert. It’s pole partners, or battle buddies, that kind of idea. They have to watch out for each other. When we have events like this, the high level of danger and the high risk of failure, everyone’s focus level is just at another level.”
The Feb. 6 storm to which Toulouse referred had gusts up to 90 mph and winds sustained above 40 mph, according to the National Weather Service. It caused substantial property damage across the Valley and in Topaz Ranch Estates and knocked out power to a good portion of Douglas County.
East Fork Fire & Paramedic Districts responded to 68 calls for service and the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center received more than 502 calls during the wind storm (between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. – compared with 271 the entire day prior), with several more coming in Saturday and Sunday related to the rain showers causing problems with the damage inflicted by the wind. Of the 502 calls, 236 were 911 calls and 266 came in on the business lines. Calls averaged 1.5 minutes to more than 2 minutes in length, depending on the circumstances. Douglas County 911 Emergency Services Manager Ron Sagen called it “one of the busiest events” he’s seen.
According to East Fork District Chief Tod Carlini, the majority of the calls were related to downed power lines, roof damages, downed trees and electrical hazards. The district also dealt with alarm malfunctions as power was restored, additional electrical hazards and water in residences which had lost roofing.
In Northern Nevada, 28,900 customers were left without power on Friday, with the majority of those concentrated in either Douglas or Washoe counties, according to Toulouse.
“Our guys out there were saying it just looked like a hurricane,” he said. “The roof of a building came off and went tumbling through the neighborhood. There was a lot of damage, a lot of trees, a lot of branches and debris.”
Through it all, though, with nearly 50 working the Carson Valley area, NV Energy and its contractors reported no injuries or vehicle/equipment damage, even during the height of the storm.
“That’s a credit to our men out in the field to take care of each other, making sure everyone was safe,” Toulouse said.
Friday started out with a mutual assistance call at South Lake Tahoe in the morning.
“We sent them a crew at 7 a.m.,” Toulouse said. “We started having problems in the Valley about 10 a.m. By noon, the wind was howling and we were experiencing some major problems. The calls just kept coming in from there.”
Toulouse, who said he has been with the power company for 36 years, said NV Energy deals with a major wind, snow or ice-driven event about every three years.
“I remember one time spending 12 days up at the north end of Lake Tahoe,” he said. “This type of occurrence, it’s typically localized. It doesn’t hit our whole service area.”
The outages, which times numbered in the several-hundred range according to the NV Energy web site, were dealt with on a priority basis.
“We have a list we go to,” Toulouse said. “Hospitals will always be Priority No. 1. We have to get them back up and running first. Then it goes to water treatment plants and wastewater and sewer, because power or not, that water will still flow. You have to have fresh water, you have to have wastewater treatment.
“The third step is we look at the amount of customers impacted by an outage. If you have an outage affecting 2,000 people, and an outage affecting two people, you work on the 2,000 first.
“We try to look at major customers, manufacturing, because if they are out of power, people aren’t working and they have to go home.
“And you have to consider people on oxygen and situations like that.”
NV Energy had an overall crew of nearly 50 working specifically the Carson Valley aspect of the storm, with each crewman out in the field working an average of 50 hours between Friday morning and midnight Sunday.
“We had four line crews out – that was about 22 personnel, and six what we call Troublemen,” Toulouse said. “Those are our first responders. They’re getting calls from the fire department or 911. They go out and find out what the problem is, assess the scene and give us an idea of what to expect and the number of people affected, see if they can’t restore power right there or if they need further assistance.
“We had two contract crews working, those are people that we hire out on calls and those were four-man crews. Then we had a three-man tree-trimming crew on site. We also had people on the inside, seven support personnel, to handle the scheduling and the calls coming in. And we had one safety representative making site visits.”
Toulouse said the initial attack from the bulk of the crew was a 36-hour shift on average.
“We monitored them and as they started getting tired, they’d go home and catch six or eight hours of sleep,” he said. “Then they came back and worked a smaller shift. They knew we had customers still out of power and we wanted to get them back online.”
The job didn’t stop once the lights were back on either.
“Our guys didn’t quit,” Toulouse said. “From Sunday right up to now they have been working some long days to do cleanup and maintenance. We’ve been working from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. trying to catch up with repairs and things like that.”
CORRECTION: Initial statistics provided to the Carson Valley Times indicated the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center fielded 240 calls during the storm. Updated statistics provided Friday morning (Feb. 13) indicated the number of calls fielded between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Feb. 6 was 502.
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