One year ago tonight: Windstorm anniversary

We were wondering if anyone was going to notice that tonight’s the anniversary of last year’s big windstorm. King County noticed, at least. On December 14 of last year, we mentioned the pouring rain at 5:22 pm … then the howling wind, at 11:28 pm. If you want to relive the (non-) joy of the ensuing days and nights of powerlessness, cleanup, and repairs, pick up our archived coverage (in reverse chronological order) here. Tonight’s forecast, meantime, looks like a breeze in comparison. 10 PM UPDATE: City Light issued a “windstorm anniversary” news release tonight touting changes made since last year – here’s the full text, since we can’t find it anywhere on the city website so far:

Utility Has Improved Response, Expanded Mutual Aid and More Is On the Way

SEATTLE – As the Seattle area marks the anniversary of its most devastating windstorm in decades, Seattle City Light continues to build on the significant improvements the utility has made in storm response, mutual aid, tree trimming and training since the Dec. 14, 2006, storm.

The Hanukkah eve storm left about 180,000 customers without power, representing almost half of Seattle City Light’s service area. The extensive damage challenged the utility’s ability to restore power. While most customers had their lights back on within two days, some were out for more than a week.

Following the storm, Seattle City Light reviewed its response internally, hired a consultant for an external review and asked other utilities with extensive emergency response experts to provide a peer review. That process led to recommendations for improving Seattle City Light’s storm response planning and procedures.

“We learned many lessons from the December windstorm and have made significant changes to improve our response in the future,” Superintendent Jorge Carrasco said. “While we can’t prevent storms from causing damage and power outages, we are committed to better response times and, more importantly, providing our customers with better information on when they can expect to have their power restored.”

Among the changes that already have been made:
— A comprehensive storm-response plan is in place with a centralized command center to improve coordination. Critical and essential employees have received training and participated in several drills based on the plan.
— Damage assessment teams are now being used to identify damage during large-scale outages. Previously, damage reports often came from customer calls.
— Field crews – from damage assessors, electrical constructors, vegetation management to lineworkers — have increased from 200 to 600.
— Tree trimming was expanded by more than $1 million, allowing 150 miles of power lines to be cleared in 2007, compared to 20 miles in 2006.
— More than 80 mutual aid agreements are in place, increasing the availability of outside help when needed.

Response time has improved, too. In the December 2006 storm, 833 customers per hour were restored; in a somewhat similar event on October 18, 2007, 2,222 customers per hour were restored – and all 60,000 customers who lost power were restored in less than 24 hours.

More is needed and underway.
— The City Council approved $3.9 million for an initial investment in an outage management system that will provide better information to customers about outages and ensure a faster, targeted response.
— The council approved $5 million for City Light to build a permanent emergency operations center.
— The council approved $5.5 million for the initial phase of an asset management program to replace old equipment and improve reliability.
— The tree trimming budget will increase again in 2008 and Seattle City Light is on track to return to a four-year cycle for covering the entire city by 2011.
— Seattle City Light has approval to add 63 workers in skilled trades, including 53 lineworkers.

“We have come a long way in just a year’s time,” says Carrasco. “But, we still have much more to do to improve our ability to provide customers with accurate and timely information about power restoration.”

1 Reply to "One year ago tonight: Windstorm anniversary"

  • Larry Works May 6, 2008 (7:20 am)

    Every 4 years the superintendent of City Light is subject to a “reconfirmation” process by vote of City Council. Superintendent Carrasco is up right now. If you want to weigh in you should contact the mayor or council member Bruce Harrell, who chairs the council committee charged with oversight of City Light.

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