Safety, reliability and member satisfaction are the three pillars of PEC, and when Hurricane Harvey hit Central Texas, your cooperative knew what it had to do. We rose to the occasion to keep the lights on, keep crews and the public safe and keep members well informed.
On Wednesday, Aug. 23, Harvey was a tropical depression heading for the Texas coast at 35 mph, and no one knew what to expect, but by Friday evening, the storm had escalated to a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds up to 130 mph. Based on the weather forecast in our service area, PEC didn’t take any chances. We quickly activated our Emergency Operations Plan (EOP), which thoroughly outlines operational procedures for our cooperative’s departments in emergency situations. Over the next three days, PEC employees throughout our service area worked around the clock for our membership and our community.
Before the storm
Once the EOP was activated, our Operations and Member Services departments immediately went to work outlining staff’s roles and organizing around-the-clock shifts for the upcoming weekend. Member services agents were ready throughout our service area, while our lineworkers, district directors and other Operations personnel headed straight for the heart of the storm farther south.
As part of our preparations, we notified our contractors to stand by to assist with power restoration, and we put our third-party call center on notice in case our own became overwhelmed. We also rebooted many systems to make sure they were operating as efficiently as possible. To help get the word out to members, Communications posted warnings on social media about the storm headed our way.
When Hurricane Harvey hit our Canyon Lake, Cedar Park, Kyle and Oak Hill districts starting as early as 8 a.m. Saturday, it brought high wind speeds and heavy rain. Operations decided early on to dispatch two two-man crews from our Marble Falls district to help our Canyon Lake crews. While each issue affected a fairly small number of locations, there were many.
“The vast majority of the outages only affected 10 people or less,” PEC Director of Control Center & Emergency Preparedness Robert Peterson said. “Sometimes, these can be worse than larger outages because lineworkers have to restore them one at a time. As always, we made sure to work safely and meticulously to get our members back up and running.”
Overall, more than 19,000 members were without power at some point during about 600 outages throughout the entire weekend. PEC Regional Operations Manager Joab Moritz reported that the crews were dealing with “a lot of trees fallen over in the primary [line] due to the high winds, high water on the roads [and] pretty significant outages affected by the rain coming down.”
As our line crews worked in the pounding rain and violent gusts of wind to restore power, many other PEC teams lent their support. Our Control Center worked continuously to identify and diagnose system failures and communicate with line crews. Procurement arranged for a mobile materials trailer in case lineworkers needed extra supplies onsite. Fleet Maintenance provided fuel service for all of our trucks in the field. Information Technology made sure our systems were running smoothly, and Vegetation Maintenance worked to clear fallen tree branches and debris in our Kyle and Oak Hill districts. Additional support was received from our Engineering, Finance, Human Resources and Safety staff.
Back in our district offices, member services agents were just a phone call away, with members on average being able to reach a live person within 20 seconds of dialing. More than 7,700 calls total were received by agents and our automated systems. Agents worked proactively, making individual calls to ensure power was restored at locations where extended outages had occurred. One outage in particular affected about 1,800 members, and an automated call was sent to let them know power was restored.
As our teams worked tirelessly, PEC members cheered us on over the phone and on social media, where outage information was being updated every few hours.
“I personally did not have one single negative interaction in regards to serving our members or working with our staff during that day,” PEC Vice President of Member Services Eddie Dauterive said. “There’s a culture here at PEC that when it comes to things like this, our employees step up to do what they need to do, and our members are incredibly appreciative and patient during these situations.”
By 8 p.m. on Sunday, the worst was over, and we were able to release our contractors to help other nearby cooperatives. A small staff of member services agents manned the phones overnight, Operations remained on call and more staff than usual remained in our Control Center. By Monday morning and with most of the storm damage resolved, we retired our EOP and returned to operations as usual.
Both Peterson and Dauterive take their hats off to all the PEC staff who selflessly worked all hours to fulfill our promise of excellence to our members.
“We are just appreciative of the efforts of our employees volunteering to keep the lights on in the Hill Country,” Peterson said. “They never cease to impress me.”
While PEC was ready for the worst, in the end the Hill Country was fortunate to avoid the full brunt of the storm. But our involvement with this catastrophe isn’t over. Cooperatives abide by a set of cooperative principles, including Cooperation among Cooperatives, and we take that commitment seriously.
On Aug. 29, we dispatched 20 PEC crew members to help Jackson Electric Cooperative in hard-hit Ganado, Texas, get their system back online. Two additional PEC employees joined our crews with unmanned aerial vehicles to help them complete the work.
In addition, PEC employees have been collecting money and supplies and mobilizing efforts to help those who are still struggling in other areas. We’ll report further on these efforts over the next few weeks.
PEC and its service territory was able to escape catastrophic damage from Hurricane Harvey, unlike so many of our neighboring areas and cooperatives in southeast Texas. Please take a moment to visit our Hurricane Harvey relief page to see how you can help people in Houston, Port Aransas, Rockport and other towns get back on their feet.