BGE braces for impact of Hurricane Florence with extra utility crews from out of state

Jerry Schmidt normally works from his office at BGE’s main supply warehouse in Windsor Mill, but Tuesday, just days before Hurricane Florence is expected to pummel the East Coast, was not normal.

The BGE manager surveyed a lot outside the warehouse where several dozen transformers and reels of cable were set to be delivered to staging areas around the region, ready for the more than 800 overhead line and tree crew members on their way from out of state.

With Florence expected to dump heavy rain that could leave the state with potentially historic flooding, downed trees and power outages, BGE began preparing last week and is in storm mode.

“This one has the potential of being severe and we want to be ready for it,” said Schmidt, BGE’s manager of material and logistics.

Forecasters are calling for the hurricane to make landfall Thursday night in the Carolinas, though the path of the storm could change.

BGE has asked between 800 and 900 crew members from sister utilities to come to the Baltimore area in the next couple of days, said Justin Mulcahy, BGE spokesman. They’re coming mainly from ComEd in Chicago and PECO in Philadelphia, utilities also owned by BGE parent Exelon in areas that don’t appear to be impacted by the storm. They will work from three staging areas, including one that was being set up Tuesday near BWI Airport.

“Typically, in a storm like this, we’re going to have damage from trees, and the trees come down on the lines, and rip the lines down, which basically breaks that current, and a lot of times it will cause the transformer to trip,” Schmidt said.

The utility’s own employees are in full-fledged storm mode. Once BGE knows the impact of the storm, it would assess whether and where it could deploy its own crews to help other storm-affected areas, he said.

“We’re pulling on everybody,” Mulcahy said. “Company wide, everybody takes on storm responsibility…We have crews in the storm center and also on conference calls, mutual assistance calls, monitoring the weather but also coordinating with some of the energy companies down south to determine their potential needs, depending on the impact of the storm.

“We have to prepare for the worst obviously and hope for the best,” he said. “We want to make sure we have resources here in the event that there’s flooding or any adverse conditions that affect our system.”

Besides delivering transformers and cables, trucks were set to roll out of the BGE hub Tuesday carrying overhead poles and “feeder kits,” boxes of equipment that utility workers from out of state would use to restore service.

“It’s all about safety and making sure they’re prepared to work and have the necessary equipment to do the job safely,” Mulcahy said.

BGE says it has sent thousands of crews and support personnel to help utilities across the country over the years as part of mutual assistance networks. The utility’s workers helped restore power in Puerto Rico earlier this year and in parts of Florida and Georgia that were affected by Hurricane Irma last September

The utility is urging customers to start preparing as well, by stocking up on perishable food, bottled water and battery operated radios, he said.

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