When Hurricane Ida’s 150-mile-per-hour winds ripped through Louisiana – and the storm failed to leave right away – it left a huge swath of devastation. With trees, poles and other equipment down everywhere, it can be difficult to know just how bad the damage is and what’s needed to get the power back on. Any help in allowing lineworkers to focus on making repairs is hugely beneficial.
That’s where assessors come in.
Customer Design Supervisors Ned Merrifield and Jed Stilwell are two of the six assessors AEP Ohio has sent to Louisiana to help with the restoration effort. They are the first line of attack in the fight to rebuild, going out ahead of line crews to survey the damage and determine what’s needed to fix it.
Assessors get answers to some critical questions: Can lineworkers access our infrastructure to repair it? Can they use bucket trucks or will they be climbing poles? Is any special equipment required? Assessors put together a list of materials, draw up the needed work and coordinate with line crew supervisors to make sure marching orders are clear.
When Merrifield arrived in Louisiana (from Marietta and McConnelsville) they began work in residential neighborhoods in Baton Rouge for a couple days and then moved to New Orleans near the airport. Their assignments each day could include assessing a large 10-mile stretch of power lines (which could take all morning) or just a couple city blocks (which could take only 15 minutes). It depends on the damage – and the damage from Ida has been extensive.
“The devastation down here is incredible,” said Merrifield, who has been part of many storm deployments during his 37-year-career with AEP Ohio. “We’ve been in Louisiana following hurricanes several times in the past few years and this damage is worse than all the rest combined.”
Though assessors perform similar work following storms in Ohio, there have been key differences in Louisiana. Assessors use an unfamiliar mapping system for identifying where infrastructure is located; they spend more time hauling materials and other equipment; they shuttle lineworkers to jobsites. Merrifield and Stilwell have also been coordinating the use of vacuum trucks for setting poles in the sandy, silty soil.
The day-to-day work of a customer design technician is not too dissimilar from storm assessment. A technician meets with a customer to review a future job; they determine what’s needed to make it happen; they help put plans in place to make sure they’re executed properly. Whether the job is bringing electricity to a new home, powering a new shopping plaza or restoring a neighborhood battered by a hurricane, much of the process is the same. And yet the mission is different for those laboring many miles from home.
“When I’m working a storm it always feels good to help people. It’s something we can do to give back to people who have sometimes have lost almost everything they’ve had,” Stilwell said. “It’s also an opportunity to spend more time together with the people you work with. You realize we’re all in this together.”
Published September 10, 2021