By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Residents and businesses should prepare for power outages but utility spokespeople say losses still happen without warning.
Representatives with the two electric cooperatives covering the Northern Shenandoah Valley gave presentations to members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee at its meeting Wednesday. The committee includes residents and representatives from Winchester and Frederick County fire and rescue agencies, industries and media outlets.
LEPC Chairman Timothy Ray, who works for O'Sullivan Films in Winchester, said after the meeting he felt pleased with the presentations given by the representatives of the utilities. As Ray explained, industries may have plans in place for power outages but the question remains how prepared are the businesses which offer certain necessities, such as pharmacies and grocery stores. The LEPC recently formed a subcommittee to design a preparedness survey, which it then would distribute to these kinds of businesses, Ray said.
Utilities have plans in place to prepare for possible outages and then work to restore electricity when it does go dark.
John Coffey, vice president of engineering and operations with the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, spoke about the utility's response to outages as well as protocols in place to restore power to its thousands of customers throughout the region. Weather can vary widely in the SVEC's area, from south of Staunton to the West Virginia state line in Frederick County, Coffey noted.
Ann M. Lewis, director of communications and public relations for the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, presented similar information for the utility that provides power to another large section of the Northern Shenandoah Valley and to the east.
Some discussion came up about communication with utilities during the fluke snowstorm that swept through the region in late October and caused widespread power outages.
"We didn't have an issue getting a hold of their operator," said Scott Cullers, chief of the Winchester FIre and Rescue Department.
Cullers noted his agency also received updates when work at an SVEC substation cause a power outage in the city a few weeks ago.
Both utilities try to communicate with customers and the communities in the days and hours leading up to a major storm or other event which may affect power, the cooperatives' representatives said. Utilities use various methods to alert customers ahead of time and during a storm. The utilities also offer unlisted numbers to emergency responders which allows fire, rescue and other agencies to bypass call centers in the event of a major outage.
As Coffey explained, the SVEC can organize crews ahead of time, put workers up in hotels in areas they think may need the most assistance.
"In our case we hope we never have to use those crews that we gather together for emergency response and a restoration effort but we put them in place just because we know experience tells us that the outages will happen, and weather will turn in a way that causes you to have to recover," Coffey said.
The best advice, according to both the utilities' representatives and fire officials at the meeting: Be prepared.
SVEC plans to allow customers in the near future to report outages directly from a smartphone and on the utility's website, Coffey said.
REC customers can report power outages on the utility's website, Lewis explained.