Penelec, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE: FE), recently completed its annual emergency preparation drill focused on testing its storm restoration process in the event severe weather causes outages throughout its vast and heavily forested service area.
Individuals participated in the storm drill both remotely and in-person at Penelec's centrally located Clearfield facility – a hybrid approach similar to how employees conduct real-life restoration activities using electronic storm tools to manage work in the field. The drill was designed to prepare employees assigned to storm restoration duties and review restoration processes and storm-management tools critical to safely and quickly getting the lights back on.
"Storm drills provide our employees a controlled forum to practice and sharpen their skills in preparation for severe weather, including thunderstorms packing gusty winds in the summer and snow and ice events in the winter," said Scott Wyman, president of FirstEnergy's Pennsylvania operations. "Regular emergency drills are another way we work to improve electric service for our customers, in addition to tree trimming and projects we do to harden our electric infrastructure and enhance its resiliency."
The recently completed drill's hypothetical scenario focused on "Winter Storm April," a potent system that swept into Pennsylvania from the southwest on a Friday in mid-December, dropping more than 2 feet of snow in several areas of Penelec's service territory over two days. Widespread wind gusts exceeded 50 miles per hour.
Similar to the type of storms that can affect Penelec customers in the winter and spring, the drill's severe weather toppled trees and damaged power lines, knocking out electricity to more than 75% of Penelec's customers. In the exercise, plows could not keep pace with the accumulating snow, leaving numerous roads impassable and slowing crews in their efforts to access damage and make repairs.
As part of the training, Penelec activated its Incident Command System (ICS). ICS is a nationally recognized and accepted emergency management process used by all levels of government – federal, state and local – as well as by many non-governmental organizations and the private sector to coordinate the response to major storms or other natural disasters.
In the aftermath of a major weather event, Penelec crews follow a formal restoration process and typically address outages that restore the largest number of customers before moving to more isolated problems. They generally prioritize hospitals and other critical medical facilities, communications facilities and emergency response agencies. After that, crews work to restore power as quickly as possible to the rest of the customers.