Anyone who’s been in an emergency situation can attest: time is everything. No one knows this more than our Engineering and Energy Innovations team, which just introduced a powerful new emergency response tool to serve our members: the PEC mobile command center.
The Texas Hill Country is no stranger to wild weather. Floods, tornadoes, ice storms and wildfires can cause power outages and create dangerous conditions for PEC staff working to restore power. This combined with the size of our 8,100-square-mile service area presents considerable challenges to crews trying to get to the heart of a problem during an emergency situation.
Enter PEC’s powerful new mobile command center, which allows our response teams to establish a base directly at the site of a power emergency. It consists of two state-of-the-art trailers: the first, the storm response command center, includes a conference room and two-person dispatch station, with up-to-the-minute weather satellite and news reporting. The second trailer serves as a support area for workers, including six bunks, a shower, a restroom and a kitchenette for crews working around the clock during a severe weather event. Each trailer is powered by a generator as well as solar panels on its roof.
“In an emergency situation, you want to be stationed as close as safely possible to the site of the event to understand what’s going on and react in real-time,” explained PEC Distribution Dispatch Manager Gerry Singleton. The center would be deployed in response to power outages caused by emergencies or weather events that “bring widespread damage to any part of our distribution system,” Singleton added.
What benefit does the equipment offer our members? Singleton responded decisively, “Time.” Time is precious when the power goes out: every hour that ticks by is an hour that our members are left in the dark, anxious about food spoilage, loss of heat and air conditioning and more.
Before the introduction of the mobile command center, PEC Technical Services Journeyworker Jimmy Moore explained, crews responding to emergency events would work out of the nearest PEC office. “We’d set up in break rooms,” Moore noted. “It was crowded.”
Crowded, and potentially far from the emergency site. By contrast, the new mobile storm command center can be deployed directly to the affected area. And even when the conditions on the ground are too unsafe for crews to begin work, the team can begin reconnaissance immediately, using unmanned aircraft to surveille the damage so we can stage crews and materials and be ready to spring into action as soon as conditions permit.
In a nutshell? “The lights come back on that much faster,” Singleton explained.
The mobile command center also provides a reassuring stream of information in the heart of the storm: beneath the awning that connects the two trailers, a large display screen and P.A. system allow team leads to keep staff, emergency responders, media and any nearby residents up to date on the evolving situation.
“When you run into a crisis, the main thing is to relay information,” Singleton said. With our mobile command center and centralized dispatch system, “everybody gets the same information, and it is distributed as quickly as possible to the people who need to know.”
Whatever comes next to the Hill Country — fire, flood, ice or wind — PEC Director of System Maintenance J.P. Donley said, looking around at the state-of-the-art center, “We’ll be ready.”