Recently, City Manager Frank Stovall responded to several questions posed by Larry Franklin, Editor of the Clinton Chronicle, regarding the city’s response to the February ice storm.
Q (Larry Franklin): When did you first call in personnel?
A (Frank Stovall): The first personnel were called in at 1 am on Tuesday morning, but many of our people were involved in preparing for the storm well before the first precipitation fell. In advance of the storm, the city activated its emergency operations plan on Monday morning, raising our emergency operational level to condition 4, which begins the emergency response process. Senior staff held an emergency operations meeting at 9 am on Monday morning, and the county held their meeting, which city personnel attended, at 10:30 am on Monday. The city raised its status to condition 3 late Monday afternoon as the winter weather began to move into our area. The city raised its operational status to condition 2 at 1 am on Tuesday morning, when the first personnel who were not on duty at that time were called back in for emergency operations.
Q: How many workers were involved at the peak?
A: At peak, approximately 20 Department of Public Works personnel were involved in the response. This is in addition to the other Public Works, Public Safety, and administrative personnel who were working on Monday and Tuesday. During Tuesday, nearly 75 employees were at work either assisting with the emergency response or going about their daily duties of providing services to our citizens.
Q: How many customers were without power at the peak?
A: Approximately 1500 customers were without power at the peak of the storm. Most had service restored within four hours.
Q: When did you get everybody turned back on?
A: The last customer was turned on around 3pm on Tuesday, making our longest outage fourteen hours in duration. While fourteen hours is a long time to go without power, we are proud of our response since many people in the upstate were without power, some in Laurens County, for nearly 48 hours.
Q: Did you get help from any other town/agency?
A: No, the City of Clinton had the personnel and resources to address this level of storm without outside assistance, but the city did reposition its personnel to provide assistance to other harder hit areas of the upstate after power was restored to all of our customers. City crews were sent to Abbeville to assist with restoration there, but only after all of our customers were restored. Our crews worked in Abbeville on Wednesday and Thursday following the storm.
Q: How many trucks were used, chain saws, other equipment?
A: The Public Works Electric Distribution fleet of vehicles consists of one 75’ Right of Way bucket truck, two 55’ bucket trucks, one 45’ service bucket truck, one auger truck for installing and removing poles, and three pick-up trucks. All of those vehicles were used, in addition to vehicles form the Water & Sewer Division and Administration. Most service vehicles are equipped with chainsaws, and some of the bucket trucks have hydraulic chainsaws that are attached to the bucket.
Q: Do you have an estimate of how much it will cost in salary, material, etc?
A: In addition to our regular daily operating costs, the city spent less than $1,000 on material due to the fact that very little of our system was damaged. Most of the outages were caused by trees in the lines, but we didn’t lose cross arms, poles, or transformers. The city also estimates that approximately $1,200 in diesel fuel was consumed by the standby generation system that kept city facilities such as the water treatment plant, the Department of Public Works facility on Gary Street, the Department of Public Safety Facility on North Broad Street, and the Enoree River Raw Water Pumping Station operating during the power outage. The raw water pumping station did not come back on electrical power until 11 am on February 18th. The city also incurred approximately $2590 in overtime salary expenditures. Of course, there were additional costs incurred when we sent our teams to help other communities, but those cities will be billed for our services.
Q: I understand one of the city trucks had an engine that blew up. Can it be fixed? How much will it cost? Will it be covered by insurance?
A: A 55 foot working height bucket truck developed an engine problem towards the end of the restoration effort. We now know that the truck suffered a wiring harness and fuel injector problem, and we anticipate the truck will be back in service by February 24th. Insurance does not cover mechanical failures. The truck is scheduled to be placed into reserve status in the latter part of 2015 when a new bucket truck, approved at the end of 2014, is delivered. The truck is fifteen years old, which is a bit longer than the normal service life of a utility bucket truck, but we are doing our best to stretch the life of our equipment to keep our operating costs low.
Q: Any comments on city employees?
A: The winter storm posed a significant challenge for our city and our residents, but through proper planning, a focus on preventative maintenance on the electrical system before the storm hit, and due in a large part to the dedication and skill of our city employees, we were able to restore power to most of customers in just a few hours, and all of our customers within fourteen hours. Our public works employees often leave their families at home, in the dark, in the cold, and without power to come and get power back on for your families. Our public safety & public works employees can’t take a snow day; they have to come in to be here when you need us because that is our promise to you as our citizen and our customer. I am proud of their dedication to the people of this city.