Agencies pull out emergency plans for Hanna

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mark Wineka
When severe weather heads North Carolina’s way out of the Atlantic Ocean, Duke Energy automatically starts going through checklists, watching forecasts, putting its people on alert, contacting other utilities and, overall, getting ready for the worst.
The same could be said for Alcoa Power Generating Inc. and the city of Salisbury.
Duke has an emergency plan it turns to, of course, as it watches the progress this week of at least three tropical storms ó Hanna, Ike and Josephine ó that could become hurricanes and threaten the company’s Carolinas service area.
“We are prepared,” Duke Energy spokesperson Paige Sheehan said Wednesday. “… We pull it (the emergency plan) out and start checking the boxes.”
Duke personnel work closely with meteorologists and try to judge the potential impact on the system. The company also contacts other utilities in the region, finding out who can help if Duke is hit the hardest, and who Duke can assist if the damage is worse elsewhere.
Overall, Duke is looking at its supplies, logistics and staff levels. It did not lose personnel to the Gulf Coast to help restore power after Hurricane Gustav hit earlier this week.
“To my knowledge, we did not get a request to go down there,” Sheehan said.
High winds are the first concern for power companies. The winds can easily bring down trees in ground saturated by rain, and those trees often fall on power lines, leading to outages.
Duke concentrates on any safety problems first, then addresses critical infrastructure and essential customers such as hospitals, jails, police and fire stations, National Guard facilities, radio and television stations, water pumping stations, filtration plants, emergency management (911) facilities, nursing homes, telephone switching stations and blood banks.
Sheehan said these essential customers tend to be on large wires and at the core of a community. In restoring power, Duke concentrates on the trunk of the tree, so to speak, then works its way out through the limbs, branches and leaves of the system.
As always, Duke customers who experience an outage should report it to the company by calling 1-800-POWER ON (1-800-769-3766).
In severe weather situations, officials with Alcoa Power Generating Inc. face a complicated juggling act along their 38-mile, four-reservoir stretch of the Yadkin River.
Marshall Olsen, environmental and natural resources manager for Alcoa Power, said all the extra water from hurricanes and tropical storms is a good thing for the drought-stricken Carolinas. But managing that water can be difficult.
Compare it to having four different-sized bathtubs in a line and figuring out how much water to keep in each. With that, Alcoa has to predict how much new water to expect and determine how much water it can release through the dams.
Its decisions on the four reservoirs impact the Progress Energy lakes downstream, for example.
“We have to get the lake (High Rock Lake) down a foot or two in preparation (of new flows,)” Olson said. “That’s how we start preparing.”
The tough decision is whether Alcoa can take levels in the reservoirs low enough without going too low. What if the rainfall accompanying the storms doesn’t meet predictions?
Last week, a storm system dumped more than 8 inches of rain on the region over a period of two days. It was difficult for Alcoa to determine how much water was going directly into its reservoirs from side streams because that additional water wasn’t being measured by upstream gauges on the Yadkin River.
Olson said Tuckertown Reservoir had an inflow of 16,000 cubic feet of water per second almost immediately from side streams. High Rock Lake also had an inflow of some 20,000 cfs that wasn’t showing up on the gauges.
Following a stair-step approach, Alcoa had to find a way of releasing that extra water from Tuckertown and High Rock without letting it all go at once and causing problems downstream.
For people on the lakes with boats, Olson said his best advice prior to severe weather’s arrival would be to get those boats out of the water. Piers built to code and by Alcoa’s Shoreline Management standards should fare well in severe weather, Olson said.
Olson noted that some piers on points are exposed and probably will be damaged by heavy wave action. “People kind of know that,” he said.
Otherwise, Alcoa officials usually anticipate considerable damage along the shoreline from trees falling, and there’s not a lot they can do until the weather clears.
Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell serves as the city’s point person in emergency situations.
He said Wednesday the city’s utilities, street, police and fire departments have been testing their generators and checking fuel supplies, storm basins and various checklists of supplies and manpower.
“We’re going through our preparation checks,” Parnell said.
He added that as of Wednesday it looked as though Hanna would not hit this area directly, but “we’re going to stay glued to the media.”
“You never know until it starts coming down,” said Salisbury Public Services Director Tony Cinquemani.
His department, as with others in the city, follows an inclement weather plan that basically lays out the parameters for what employees will do.
In public services, virtually every employee goes on standby to work whenever they’re needed.
This week, the street division is rounding up road barricades and getting ready to place them at known trouble spots for flooding. Salisbury Transit and Rowan-Salisbury school buses also have a plan they will be following.
Individuals in Rowan County who need help in non-emergency situations related to things such as transportation and shelter are being encouraged to call the 211 help line.
Gov. Mike Easley announced Wednesday he was activating the N.C. National Guard and other state resources to be ready to respond to Tropical Storm Hanna, which is expected to affect the state Friday and Saturday.
Up to 270 members of the Guard will be in place by Friday, 144 Highway Patrol troopers are on standby for immediate deployment, and 12 of the state’s 25 Swift Water Rescue Teams will be activated in the central and eastern portions of the state.
Easley activated the State Emergency Response Team at 7 a.m. Wednesday to make sure all state personnel and resources are ready for wherever Hanna decides to go.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is for our residents throughout the state to have their family emergency kit including at least three days of food, funds, fuel and clothes ready,” Easley said in a press release. “Preparation saves lives and makes recovery go more smoothly.”