Co-Mo reflects on crippling storm

The scope of the massive damage caused to the Co-Mo Electric Cooperative system by the snowstorm last week is beginning to come into focus.

At a debriefing meeting held Monday morning, March 4, staff presented preliminary numbers about the devastation. Among them:

• The outage lasted five days, two hours and 40 minutes from the time the first member lost power on the evening of Feb. 25 to when the last member was restored Saturday night.

• The storm knocked power out to more than half of the cooperative’s meters and caused more than 750,000 customer hours of outage time.

• More than 760 devices such as transformers and fuses needed repair.

• A total of 66 poles were broken.

• Preliminary estimates put the total cost of the storm at around $1 million.

“This was no small storm,” said Ken Johnson, the cooperative’s CEO and General Manager, at the Monday-morning meeting. “We have just pulled off something in this restoration effort that I don’t think has been pulled off at Co-Mo before.”

That effort involved all 70-plus Co-Mo employees and assistance from 128 linemen from other electric utilities.

“We had some dang fine help,” said Fred Franken, Co-Mo’s most senior lineman with more than 40 years on the cooperative’s system. “It goes to show you the strength of the cooperative family in the state of Missouri.”

Kim James, the cooperative’s Lake District Assistant Manager, said he talked with those outside crews as they prepared to return home Saturday night and passed along their sentiments.

“Those guys told me how high a quality they felt the men they were working with were,” James said.

The Monday debriefing allowed employees to review the entire restoration process while the information was still fresh in their minds to focus on areas for improvement for the next time a major storm hits. One area that couldn’t have gone any better was safety. No one working on the Co-Mo lines suffered an injury during restoration efforts.

“We worked as safely as we ever have worked in a major disaster,” Johnson said.

The meeting also touched on the damage to the Co-Mo Connect fiber-to-the-home system. Less than 6 percent of subscribers lost service in the wake of the storm, and no damage was done to any of the mainline fiber.

“This happened early enough in our fiber build-out to the entire system that we will be able to look at our design and tweak things to make it even better,” said Randy Klindt, Co-Mo Comm’s general manager.

Because of the snowstorm, the Co-Mo Connect deadline for Phase 1 signups, which was set for March 1, has been pushed back to March 15. Details on signing up can be found at co-mo.net.

Mike Dittmer, a cooperative linemen, said he was proud of how Co-Mo responded to member needs during the crisis.

“These people rely on us, and we need to really listen to them. We are in their homes in a way that only their families probably are more,” he said. “I think we really did listen to them.”

The outpouring of support from the membership reflects that. The Missouri Cattleman’s Association is planning a special lunch for the cooperative’s employees this week to thank them for the hard work in restoring power.

“That’s a testament to how hard you all worked,” Johnson told employees Monday.

The meeting also focused on how things could have been much, much worse.

“It’s hard to believe that a storm that knocks out power to more than half your meters could be worse, but it could have been,” said Operations Manager Chuck Tuttle. “If the right of way wasn’t maintained as well as it is, we would still be talking about getting members’ power back on. There were hardly any problems caused by trees falling on lines or lines sagging down into trees.”

Johnson praised Hentges Tree Service, which maintains the cooperative’s rights-of-way, for their work and lauded the cooperative’s Board of Directors for their commitment to funding the tree-trimming operation.

“Those are some big checks that go to pay for the right-of-way maintenance,” Johnson said. “But without those big checks this outage is an even bigger problem — a lot bigger problem.”

Tuttle and Johnson also thanked Ameren Missouri for sending crews to help restore power.

“It shows you don’t have to be a part of the cooperative family to cooperative. It was a good thing to have them on our system helping our members,” Johnson said.

Above all, Johnson said, the praise needs to go to the Co-Mo members.

“They stuck with us. They brought coffee out to the linemen in the field. They brought cookies in for our customer service representatives. They sent hundreds of messages of support via Facebook and email,” he said. “It really shows the character of the members we serve.”

By the numbers

• 5 days, 2 hours, 40 minutes - The length of the outage from first off to last on.

• 128 - The number of outside crews who helped us out.

• 53 % - The percent of meters off at the peak of the outage. That's more than 17,000 meters out of service.

• 760 - The number of total devices that needed repair (transformers, reclosers, fuses, etc.)

• 66 - Total number of broken poles.

• 750,000 - The number of customer-hours in the outage. One customer out one hour is one customer hour.

• 7,524 - The number of outage calls answered by a customer service representative.

• 800,000 to 1 million - The pounds of snow cleared from our roof when we realized Wednesday that we were having problems that could have threatened a roof collapse at the Operations Center.

Help came from: Co-Mo Electric Cooperative; Ameren Missouri; Black River Electric Cooperative; Calloway Electric Cooperative; Citizens Electric Cooperative; Crawford Electric Cooperative; Gascosage Electric Cooperative; Intercounty Electric Cooperative; Kiowa Line Builders; Laclede Electric Cooperative; Macon Electric Cooperative; Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative; New Mac Electric Cooperative; North Central Electric Cooperative; Ozark Border Electric Cooperative; Sac Osage Electric Cooperative; Se-Ma-No Electric Cooperative; Southwest Electric Cooperative; Tri County Electric Cooperative; and Webster Electric Cooperative.

What members said about the best thing about living without power

We asked our members what the best thing was about being out of power last week from snowstorm Rocky. Here are some of the 80-plus responses:

• Our cat entertained us when she set her tail on fire during a romantic candlelit dinner. — Beverly Mayhew Dodds

• In our case, we put our resources together with a neighbor and helped each other out. Just one example: One truck got around better to feed all the livestock and the other had an extra generator to plug in a heater. This allowed us to remain at home. Our kids made the connection to the barter and trade system. Many important life lessons learned in the 80 hours we were without power. — Jennifer Sleeper-LaBoube

• It was so good for all of us to be without, a great lesson. Also our neighbor lady stayed with us. Spending time with her was priceless. Both things wouldn’t have happened without the outage. — Elizabeth Widel

• We had great family time disconnecting and reconnecting. We told stories, sang songs and played charades by candlelight. We are going to make disconnecting from technology a new family habit, but with power. — Leslie Nelson Brantley

• Sharing old family stories with my parents and grandparents was great, but the bonds with our neighbors and helping each other with wood, food and beverages was the best. — Ashley Baker

• Our dog was chewing on an ink pen and blue ink exploded all over his face. He looked like a Smurf. It was a funny diversion from our powerless state. — John Newberry

• Teaching your kids to appreciate the benefits of electricity and how much we take for granted on a daily basis. — Trichelle Keen

• Playing board and card games with the family! We also had two snowball fights and built snowmen. It was awesome that they couldn’t just go watch TV or play video games. — Sarah Bryant

• No TV. It’s amazing the amount of paperwork and required reading one can get done without the distraction. I’m going to turn the TV off more often. It’s good for my psyche. — Dee Brite

• There was more of a sense of friendship between neighbors and friends that were in the same boat. Lots of relatives calling to check on me. Seems like I did a lot of laughing during that three days. Rather humorous melting snow to flush the toilet and giving thought to taking candle-making classes. Oh, and my brother wearing his stocking cap in the house. That was funny! — Jeanne Smith

• We were actually trying to come up with amusement-without-power Top 10. We came up with a few. You get to cook on the grill in the winter. You never have to clean your stove. You don’t have to call your gas company in the middle of the night to bring you propane. You will never clean your bathroom (outhouses do not need cleaning). You never have to worry if you left your curling iron plugged in. Do not have to tell your kids “lights out” at bedtime. — Carolyn Kiesling

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