OCTOBER 2011 SNOW STORM
What happened? At the height of the snow storm that begin mid-day on Saturday, October 29, 2011, Westfield experienced the largest loss of electric load in history, resulting in 90% of our customers out of power. Wet heavy snow accumulation on leaf-laden trees resulted in fallen limbs, trees, wires and poles throughout the City. Westfield has the 2nd largest geographic land space in the commonwealth with over 400 miles of wire which presented another layer of difficulty in responding to the outages.
How did WG&E react? Although the WG&E is well prepared for such events with emergency response procedures in place, crews on standby and an ample stock supply, we quickly realized that the extent of damage was well beyond what our normal resources could handle. With approximately 16,000 customers left in the dark and impassable roadways and downed wires impeding our access to many areas of the city, we swiftly called in for support through our mutual aid agreements. As a result, we successfully obtained 35 additional crews (both line workers and tree crews) from North Carolina, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Canada at a time when the demand quickly surpassed the supply available. Many cities have been unable to receive mutual aid assistance until recently with their mutual aid crews not arriving until 4-5 days into the event and traveling from as far away as Michigan and Kansas. Meanwhile, at this same point in time, the WG&E had already restored close to 90% of those who had been out of power.
What happened to the power supply? All Cities and towns receive their power delivery through large high voltage power lines called “transmission lines” owned by Investor Owned Utilities, i.e.- Northeast Utilities and National Grid. With a storm of this geographic range and intensity, damage occurred in outlying areas and included these high tension lines that provide power to our City. As the chart below illustrates, the power supply coming into the city was severely impacted at the height of the storm. Of the four lines that feed Westfield, the two sources for our Buck Pond substation on the north side and one line into the south side substation were rendered inoperable. This put us in a very tenuous position for a period of many hours when, if another mishap occurred, the entire city would have been plunged into darkness with no immediate relief available. But just five days after the worst outage we've ever experienced occurred, our megawatt loads were just about back to normal.
How did W&E communicate during the outages? With an event of such catastrophic loss of power, the WG&E did its best to keep our customers well informed. Knowing that people would be anxious to know when and where power had been restored, we realized that cellular phone service would provide us with a quick means of communication. The explosion of smart phone users provided an opportunity for us to use social media to let our customers know of the progress we were making through continuous postings on our website, FaceBook page and Twitter account and it quickly became evident that our customers were spreading the word of this information stream as we watched our number of followers grow from approximately 250 to over 3,000 in a matter of days. This avenue of communication worked both ways in that not only were our customers being informed of where the crews were working and what streets had been restored, but we were also being advised by customers of specific areas that still needed attention. Residents who had sought refuge away from their home were able to quickly learn if their area had returned to power. The city officials, local newsprint, radio and television media groups were also following our postings on Facebook as their reporting reflected the information we had posted online. In addition, we also continued to maintain contact with local reporters to provide updates as they were requested.
Click on the image below to read an open letter to the community from Dan Howard, General Manager