Pandemic Prep Pays Off In Storms

Advance planning helps to ensure service restoration with minimal disruptions.

by Daetta Jones, Ameren Illinois

At the beginning of each calendar year, Ameren Illinois’ operations leaders and staff from our emergency operations center team review our weather preparedness plan. We conduct tabletop exercises to refine our processes and practice for large-scale, worst-case power outage scenarios. Working on communication, deployment of crews, weather monitoring and logistics is critical so we’re ready for the spring/summer storm season.

This year, our preparations took on new significance. We added protocols to our preparedness plan in anticipation of the disruptions that could occur if the coronavirus were to impact our state and our company. In addition to those storm prep procedures, we implemented several safety precautions to protect the health and safety of our workers, customers and communities: 

* Our storm field checker teams are usually made up of two people per vehicle—one driver and one spotter. Due to our COVID-19 practices, only one person per vehicle is permitted. 

* When you look up at an electrical line being repaired or replaced, you will likely see only one individual per bucket. In cases in which a two-man job cannot be avoided, the crew members will be wearing protective masks. A similar protocol is in place for crews working in trenches (gas lines) or in substations. 

* Individuals are driving separate trucks/vehicles when possible, with the goal of having only one person occupying a vehicle. 

* We are keeping the crews consistent to minimize intermingling of employees.

* We are reinforcing and providing additional PPE and guidelines for employees entering homes. We have secured and provided additional gloves and masks.

* We are issuing guidelines for co-workers to protect themselves while in the public—maintaining distance and reinforcing the need for customers to maintain their safe distance from our crews.

Our goal is to ensure that storm restoration can proceed with minimal disruptions while we operate under the umbrella of our COVID-19 safety protocols. 

Earlier this spring, our planning was put to the test in a few of our central Illinois operating divisions when large storms hit the region. We weren’t perfect, but the preparation did pay off as we restored nearly 39,000 outages and replaced more than 200 downed power poles in 28 hours with no safety incidents. I am proud of how we all came together to restore service and overcome hurdles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. PM

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