Cooperation in the Face of Adversity
By Craig Conrad
When storms strike, whether a hurricane along the coast, an ice storm in the mountains or other severe weather event, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives — and those across the nation for that matter — are not alone. There is a single consistent element in every storm event. Help in the form of dedicated and determined cooperative and contractor linemen will show up with a spirit and energy that keeps them going until every light is burning.
When damages and outages are widespread, we rely on the power of the cooperative network to get the lights back as quickly, and safely, as possible. With just a phone call, we can get assistance from co-op line crews from less-affected areas of the state and elsewhere.
We have had help from visiting crews many times over the years, and there is nothing better than seeing a fleet of line trucks and equipment pulling into our headquarters. In 2005, visiting cooperative crews brought our restoration force to 120-plus after Hurricane Ophelia. We had storm teams from neighboring cooperatives and as far away as Georgia helping out during Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The converse is also true. If other cooperatives need our help, we are more than happy to send our crews wherever they are needed. North Carolina’s electric cooperative crews have helped co-ops remove debris, reset power poles, replace equipment and restring the lines damaged by disasters not only in North Carolina, but throughout the South. With Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for instance, our cooperative and many others from across the nation spent days helping rebuild the electric infrastructure and restore power for cooperatives in the Gulf states impacted by the massive storm.
The deployment of crews is part of a mutual aid agreement shared between North Carolina’s 26 cooperatives and other cooperatives across the nation.
Tarheel Electric Membership Corporation (TEMA), a member-owned central materials supply cooperative in the state, stocks supplies and coordinates the mutual aid response from co-ops in areas not expected to be impacted by storm damages. An advantage to this system of power restoration is that electric cooperatives throughout the nation work from the same power line specifications developed by the federal Rural Utilities Service. That means visiting crews are already familiar with the construction requirements and equipment, as though they are working on their own systems back home.
When help arrives, the affected cooperative coordinates restoration efforts according to their own emergency response plan. The co-op is responsible for assigning work areas and equipping crews with employee “bird dogs” who are familiar with the local service area. The hosting co-op also arranges food, lodging and anything else the visiting crews may need.
When their work is completed, they leave more tired than when they arrived, but they leave knowing that their efforts have been appreciated by the members they assisted. As they drive off with a smile and a wave, they know that a phone call is all it would take to bring them back.
These crews are dedicated to helping co-op members because they embody one of our founding principles: “Cooperation Among Cooperatives.” It’s all about providing our member-owners with the highest level of service possible. That is our mission, and we take it very seriously.