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Hurricane Florence, working by canoe
(REMC photo)

Randolph Electric Membership Corporation employees,especially line crews, earn their stripes during natural disasters such as hurricanes and ice storms. They showed their mettle during 2018 when Hurricanes Florence and Michael plowed through, followed soon after by Winter Storm Diego.

“At Randolph EMC, 2018 will certainly be remembered as a year of storms. But upon reflection, I believe the best description for 2018 is, even though major storms hit us, ‘we weathered the storms together,’ ” said Dale Lambert, chief executive officer of REMC.

“A lot goes on behind the scenes and it’s not just line workers,” added Jill Vanness, director of member and public relations, about what the staff does in response to widespread outages. “The entire company has detailed storm plans and everybody has assignments.”

The cooperative works with other agencies such as the N.C. Department of Transportation, the N.C. Highway Patrol, Emergency Services and the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office during such times, she said.

“Florence was a big storm with a width measuring approximately 400 miles. Around daybreak on Thursday, Sept. 13, the first cloud bands were visible on the horizon. That evening brought our first storm-related outage, but with the increased wind and rain on Friday, Sept. 14, the number of members out of power continued to grow,” Lambert wrote in a newsletter detailing REMC’s response.

“In my 34-year career, I have never experienced rain to the duration or intensity of Florence. The result was flooding to the level not seen in my lifetime. Measurements of up to 15-plus inches of rain came in from parts of our service area. Many roads were washed out and standing water meant crews detouring in order to get to the outages.

“The first outage came in on Thursday night, Sept. 13, at 7:30 p.m. and the last member’s power was restored on Monday night, Sept. 18, at 7:49 p.m. Systemwide, 14,742 members, representing 46 percent of our members, experienced an outage. The southern areas of the system were hit harder. In Moore County, 60 percent of our members were out of the power with Montgomery County being our hardest-hit county with 78 percent of members out of power.

“In addition to our normal team of cooperative and contract crews, we called in extra line and tree crews from Pike Electric and Townsend Tree Service. They traveled from Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia to assist us.

“So many times, it has been Randolph EMC sending crews to help restore power to others in need. We are grateful for those that left their homes and families and traveled here to assist us.

“It takes an enormous effort from every individual to make the storm response puzzle fit together correctly. These crews had to be fed and a place to sleep secured. Supplies have to be on hand to replace the damaged materials.

“The dispatchers in the storm center had to keep track of every team member in the field and direct them to the appropriate location. The communications team works hard to keep you updated through press releases to the media, our website, Facebook and Twitter. The management team plays a critical leadership role in directing the overall storm response.”

“Unlike Florence, who was like the relative that would never leave, Michael was a fast mover,” Lambert wrote.

“The remnants of the eye of Tropical Storm Michael passed over the center of our service area. All was good up until that point, with only a few scattered outages. But Michael was not done.

“The focus of concern for our storm center was the high-wind band on the back side of the storm. It came in fast, blew hard and left a lot of damage. Overall, Michael caused more damage to the system and more members were out of power than from Florence.

“The first Michael-related outage came in on Thursday, Oct. 11, just after 10 a.m. The last outage was restored on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 5:30 p.m., with most members’ power restored by Saturday, Oct. 13. A total of 16,856 members experienced an outage from Michael, which translates to 52 percent of our members out of power. This compares to 46 percent of members out of power from Florence.

“Chatham County had the highest percentage of members out of power from Michael with 72 percent experiencing an outage. Montgomery County was next at 60 percent, Randolph had 54 percent, Moore with 44 percent and Alamance had 36 percent of members who experienced an outage.

“The intense, high-velocity wind band from Michael caused more damage overall to the system than the longer duration, but lower velocity winds from Florence. For Florence, there were 52 broken poles. But in the aftermath of Michael, we had 72 broken poles, caused by trees blown onto the power lines from outside the right of way.”

Additional crews were brought in to assist with the restoration efforts.

“My hopes for a calm conclusion for 2018 were shattered when Winter Storm Diego blew in,” Lambert wrote. “For the third time in three months, our storm response plan was activated and advance measures were taken in anticipation for another major storm hitting the Randolph EMC system. Additional outside line crews were brought in prior to the storm’s arrival and we continued to add crews throughout the storm as they became available.

“Frozen precipitation started in the early morning hours on Sunday, Dec. 9. Where you lived in central North Carolina determined how much snow or a mixture of snow/freezing rain/rain you received.

“As trees became ladened with heavy snow and ice, multiple outages started occurring just after sunrise. Throughout the afternoon, the snowball was tumbling downhill, so to speak, with outage numbers growing by the minute.

“The vast majority of members’ power was restored the evening of Monday, Dec. 10, with all power restored by mid-morning on Tuesday, Dec. 11. A total of 12,671 members experienced an outage, which represents 40 percent of our membership.”