Line Workers Ready for Northeast Hurricane

line workers ready for hurricaneGLEN BURNIE, Md. — A forest of bucket trucks bearing license plates from Missouri, Florida and Georgia have converged on a vast unused parking lot near the airport here in preparation for emergency power repairs in the mid-Atlantic region.

Hundreds of workers from other states are massing on the site, where Baltimore Gas and Electric has put up a mess tent, brought in office trailers and Porta Potties and stationed staff members in fluorescent green clothing to dispatch crews.

But so far this is only an army in waiting. Only a few customers were without power as the first torrents of rain hit the Washington-Baltimore area, and the bucket trucks are expected to be useless until the winds from Hurricane Sandy have passed, which might mean waiting until Wednesday.

“We don’t fly the buckets if it’s 25 miles per hour or over,’’ said Bill Bush, a BGE crew guide.

But no matter where they are from or where they are ultimately headed, all of the workers know the drill.

Once the winds have subsided, Mr. Bush said, his team is likely to be assigned to a feeder line radiating from a substation that could serve anywhere from 500 to 2,500 customers and work along it for 16 hours a day, moving trees, restringing wires and replacing poles as needed until it is entirely back in service.

But on Monday morning, there was not much to do except hunker down in the mess tent, where caterers provided eggs, hash browns, sausage, orange juice and Mountain Dew.

The power companies rely on an online mutual aid system where they can offer or ask for assistance and on frequent conference calls and one-on-one telephone transactions. With ample warning of Sandra, some of the crews departed for the Baltimore area on Saturday morning and were updated on their precise destination while en route.

Ryan Swanson, 22, who lives in Preston, Mo., said he traveled a little over 1,000 miles with several other trucks from Kiowa Line Builders of Tipton, Mo. He was “voluntold” to go, he said.

Most of the workers interviewed here said they were happy to volunteer or to be assigned. Arrangements differ by company, but they typically are paid time and a half for every moment of travel, sleep and work, and some get double-time for their working hours. The base pay varies, but $40 an hour is typical.

The host utilities pay more than that to the linemen’s employers and provide meals and laundry service. The trip may last a week, two or three: some might be redispatched from here to hard-hit spots before returning for home.

The “foreign” crews, as the host utility calls them, are well traveled. Joe Kinslow, 36, of Preston, also dispatched by Kiowa, was in Louisiana and Texas to clean up after hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. And he was in Virginia earlier this year “for whatever that was,’’ as he put it, referring to the derecho, the odd straight-line windstorm that struck the Washington area hard.

Mr. Kinslow, of Halfway, Mo., said he expected to spend the next week or two doing familiar work in unfamiliar places. “You see a lot of weird place names wherever you go,’’ he said.

The mess tent was a blur of sweatshirts, boots, hunting caps with various faded logos, and weathered complexions from years climbing utility poles.

One BGE supervisor who asked not to be named joked that the gathering resembled a pirates convention.

The staging area, one of four created by BGE, parallels other rapidly organized hubs around the Northeast. The host utilities of today are tomorrow’s donors: BGE has sent help to Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Florida, said Rachael Lighty, a spokeswoman for the utility.

For this storm, BGE requested 3,000 linemen and tree trimmers, and more than half that number were in place by Monday morning, she said. Even when it is too windy to work, as it is now, she said, utilities in the region are locating and evaluating damage.

Original Article: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/29/in-a-mess-tent-line-workers-at-the-ready/

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