Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, May 1, 2020

Tornado power infrastructure damage tops $28M

EPB crews rebuild Chattanooga’s fiber optic system. - Photograph provided

In the wake of the tornadoes and severe storms that ripped through the Chattanooga area April 12, EPB estimates more than $28 million in damage to the community’s electric and fiber optic infrastructure. This exceeds the $25 million damage total from the tornadoes that impacted the area in 2011.

“The devastation from this storm focused on some of the most densely populated parts of our community, and consequently, heavy concentrations of infrastructure were destroyed,” says David Wade, president and CEO of EPB. “Our first thought was for the families impacted by the storm, and we knew the most important thing we could do was to rebuild the system so we could restore power and connectivity to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”

With the benefit of post-restoration information and analysis, Wade was able to share a more detailed and complete outline of storm preparation, damage and restoration efforts.

With severe storms in the forecast, EPB had called in additional crews beforehand. As tornadoes, heavy storms and high winds rolled across the community after 11 p.m. on Easter Sunday, more than 106,000 EPB customers lost power. Chattanooga’s smart grid began its automated processes at that time, preventing about 44,000 customers from experiencing an outage that would have lasted hours or perhaps days.

This allowed EPB to focus on repair efforts for about 62,000 customers who remained without power. Within 24 hours, EPB had restored power to 20,000 more households while beginning the process of calling on mutual aid agreements with other utilities.

Through that effort, EPB was able to accelerate the effort of rebuilding a substantial portion of Chattanooga’s electric and fiber optic system by temporarily growing its workforce by more than 1,500 utility workers from across eight states.

As EPB continued the reconstruction, the full picture of the devastation became clearer and clearer. Crews had to remove many tons of trees, debris and damaged equipment before they could even begin to rebuild the shattered infrastructure.

A preliminary survey of the damage and reconstruction concludes:

709 transformers were destroyed, requiring removal and replacement

812 utility poles had fallen, broken or shattered during the storm, requiring removal and replacement.

125 miles of power of power line had to be replaced and restrung over a 65-mile span of infrastructure

Three substations that distribute power to a wide swath of Hamilton County had been knocked offline requiring a major clearing and rebuilding operation before they could be re-energized.

About 450 homes were too damaged for safe power restoration requiring the removal of electric facilities to the premises until repairs or reconstruction can take place

To keep utility workers focused on these reconstruction efforts as they worked 16-hour shifts, EPB established a major staging area and support station in the parking lot at Hamilton Place Mall.

Utility workers could come to these locations to obtain the materials they needed along with a quick meal. EPB employees who work in office positions continued to be responsible for their normal work while also volunteering to put out food, distribute protective gear and coordinate the staging of reconstruction materials.

“When you count all of the utility crews we brought in along with all of EPB’s regular employees who joined in restoration efforts, we were able to dedicate more than 2,000 people to the sole focus of restoring services to our customers,” Wade says. “At a time when so many in our community are facing severe challenges, everyone at EPB shared a sense of purpose in helping our neighbors take the first steps toward reconstruction.”

Source: EPB