The first indicators were forecasts from the National Weather Service on Dec. 12, followed by warnings that increased in urgency as the storm of the century approached the Pacific Northwest. By the time winds clocked at 69 miles per hour slammed Sea-Tac International Airport on Dec. 15, we all knew this was a weather event of gigantic proportions. In advance of the potential threat, we had begun assembling our largest workforce ever.
Now, one month later, Kirkland and other communities are getting back to normal and taking the extra steps to prepare for the future. As the last of the storm debris is being cleaned up and our electric system is being examined, repaired and strengthened, we at Puget Sound Energy (PSE) - who worked with first responders, the city of Kirkland and its public works department and with our repair crews - are evaluating how we did. We're also asking what we could have done better, and what we need to do to be prepared for future emergencies.
The storm was unprecedented and felt like a war zone in many areas, including Juanita. But destructive as it was, it brought out the best in our public safety officials, our emergency medical response teams and our government leaders. The PSE workforce put in incredibly long and difficult hours to make roadways safe, to repair and right downed power lines and poles and to restore power to the more than one million homes and businesses that went dark in the Puget Sound region. Credit and apprecication must also be given to our customers who braved the falling trees and the cold temperatures without lights or heat to help others in need.
Consider the landscape that emerged after the winds died down and the rain cleared:
* Three-quarters of our customers - approximately 700,000 homes and businesses - without power
* Tens of thousands of trees uprooted from drenched soil (by heavy rain and winds beginning in November), many of them falling on homes, stores and power lines and substations
* 40 percent (85 in number) of PSE's high-voltage transmission lines were knocked out
* Nearly 50 percent (159) of PSE's substations went offline
In a matter of days, our crews rebuilt portions of the electric system that under normal conditions would take many months to build. When final repairs are done, we'll have installed nearly 1,000 new poles ... 600 transformers ... 200 miles of new power lines (the rough equivalent of stringing a single wire from Kirkland to Portland).
Hopefully a storm of this intensity occurs only once every 50 to 100 years. However, we are not going to take that chance. We at PSE are assessing our actions in December and how we can do an even better job of coordinating with local governments and communities. We are looking at how to better communicate with our customers. And we are developing strategies for improving on all fronts.
Tree-trimming program evaluated
We are reviewing our tree-trimming program and considering additional measures to safeguard our facilities as well as our customers' property from storm-damaged trees. We know citizens of Washington state love their trees and value the beauty of forested land. As development extends into heavily-treed areas (which we continue to try and preserve), we must look for ways for those new homes and buildings and power systems to be less vulnerable to damage when winds and rain combine to fell large trees.
Moving overhead wires underground
We are constantly looking for new technologies that will enable us to safely and cost-effectively move more overhead lines underground. Discussions with the city of Kirkland, other municipalities and public safety officials will continue.
We invite people in Kirkland to contact us, and would value your ideas, observations, and comments. Your point of contact for Kirkland is Jim Hutchinson, manager of community and government relations, 888-Call-PSE or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jerry Henry is a special advisor to the chairman at Puget Sound Energy.[[In-content Ad]]