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An army of utility workers hustled to bring back power

By Jane Bollinger
November 7, 2012

Only a handful of Pennsylvania Power and Light (PP&L) customers remained without power in Wayne and Pike counties by Tuesday morning, a week after Hurricane Sandy blew through the region leaving 23,923 customers in Wayne and 19,665 in Pike in the dark. With power restored, repair crews from faraway states started home or headed off to other areas stricken by the storm where people were still waiting for power.

In PP&L’s 10,000 square-mile service area, more than 400,000 customers were without power for some duration. Utility crews from across the country responded to the company’s call for mutual aid.

At the height of repair efforts about 3,500 workers were out in the field, a number more than three times the utility’s normal physical workforce. In addition, another 2,500 people were providing support services to the work crews.

The hurricane caused “very significant damage to our infrastructure,” PP&L’s Pocono Area Regional Director spokesman Paul Canevari reported. “Utility poles snapped off at the base. Equipment was destroyed. Crews were not just repairing, but had to rebuild entire sections of power lines.”

Predictions are that the storm would be costly. “Beyond poles and lines, storms like this typically also impact equipment including transformers and fuses,” Canevari added. “And clean-up around our system will continue for weeks.” In addition, PP&L is keeping an eye on the nor’easter that’s expected this week.

Fortuitously, some summertime planning by PP&L to identify potential sites for a staging area for support services in an emergency really paid off. Last week as the storm bore down on the Upper Delaware region, a sprawling support facility was hastily built. More than a parking lot for utility trucks, the crew center was capable of housing 500 repair people. Huge trailers served as bunk houses. Other services included a dining area, laundry trailers, shower facilities and toilets.

A 6 a.m. visit on Monday to this so-called “man camp” at the Wayne County Fairgrounds revealed hundreds of out-of-town linemen and other crew members with approximately 75 electrical utility trucks all waiting to be deployed to continue their essential work. Most of the men here came from Kentucky—Louisville, Lexington and other towns. Nearby a cluster of trucks from Blume Tree Services, a division of Asplundh, found crew members also waiting to learn where they would work on Monday. These men had come from as far away as Memphis, TN and Houston, TX.