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    Coping with power outage

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    Orange Mound Survivor

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    Evergreen Presbyterian offers free meals to neighbors without power

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    Storm Outage – supplies distribution

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    Mayor Jim Strickland ask for $6 million for storm clean up

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    A night of close calls as storm hits Memphis

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    TC Stables owner talks about recent Memphis storm and calling it quits

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    Surveying Dianna Jones’ damaged home from Memphis storm

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    Memphis power outage: Weekend storm topples trees

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    Memphis officials give update on storm damage, power outages

Roosevelt Turner couldn’t help but feel left in the dark, what with neighbors to the north and east having their lights back on while his home still languished without power.

“It’s frustrating when you drive around and see some people with lights and some without them,” said Turner, 55, as he worked in his yard on Evergreen in Midtown about four days after a devastating wind storm Saturday night knocked out electricity to 188,000 homes and businesses.

“If you have no power, you feel like it ain’t fair.”

But officials with Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, in the midst of a restoration effort expected to last more than a week and cost in excess of $9 million, say they’re following a process that’s both efficient and fair. They first restore power to critical facilities, then work their way downward to fix outages affecting thousands, then hundreds, then scores of customers before targeting smaller pockets.

“We do not give preferential treatment except to hospitals, nursing homes, water-treatment plants and police and fire stations,” said Jerry Collins, president and CEO of the utility.

The restoration effort has benefited from technologies and resources unavailable in the aftermath of the devastating July 2003 storm known as Hurricane Elvis.

This time there are more crews from outside utilities repairing overhead lines, and technical advances ranging from smart phones and smart meters to a computerized response system have made it easier to gather information and better deploy work crews, officials say.

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Davis H. Elliot Construction electricians Jonathan Turner (left) and Paul Perkins (right) of Lexington, Ky., work on crimping an electrical line behind homes on University near Vollintine Thursday afternoon.  (Photo: Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

In the wake of Saturday’s storm, MLGW has been able to secure assistance from 97 overhead line crews from utilities as far away as Ohio. Although Hurricane Elvis caused more damage, no more than 70 outside crews were ever helping in the wake of that storm, according to utility and city officials.

Collins said the larger number of crews reflected the urgency the utility attached to the restoration effort. “And, they were available, which isn’t always the case.”

The process used in restoring power gives priority to critical facilities, followed by large circuits, which can supply power to almost 3,000 homes and businesses.

Of the more than 400 circuits in MLGW’s system, 114 were knocked out the by storm, cutting service to 125,000 customers.

As was the case with Hurricane Elvis, Saturday’s storm caused extensive damage along some circuits, including one in Frayser in which numerous poles were destroyed.

Once the large circuits are back in operation, crews focus on partial circuit outages affecting smaller numbers of customers. They then turn to transformer outages, which typically affect four or five homes each. It is in dealing with the small outages — the phase in which MLGW now is engaged — that the process becomes especially tedious.

“The small outages take as long as the large outages, but you don’t see as much fruit from your labor.” Collins said.

In addition to the extra crews, MLGW has been helped by technology not available in 2003, including the utility’s Computer Aided Restoration of Electrical Service (CARES)  system that’s tied into a high-volume hotline on which outages are reported. It can handle up to 20,000 calls per hour.

The utility also has begun installing so-called smart meters to replace the electro-mechanical devices used by utilities for decades. Although they’re controversial among some customers, smart meters allow for reduced costs for the utility, increased billing accuracy and more efficient electrical use by homes and businesses.

They also help in restoring service following storms, Collins said, although the full benefits won’t be realized until they’ve been installed across entire MLGW service area.

For the 40 percent of MLGW’s customers who have smart meters, the technology has proven “very useful” during the restoration effort, he said.

Utility officials have been able to “ping” the meters to see if power is on at a specific home or business. “That saves us a trip out to that house, and that’s happened hundreds of times,” Collins said.

Other, more broadly used, technical advances have helped, as well. “In 2003, there were no smart phones, and there weren’t that many mobile phones,” Collins said, adding that as a result the utility had to rely on “runners” to relay information.

Another reason this restoration has proceeded more quickly involves the improvements made to MLGW’s system following Hurricane Elvis. The system now is more “hardened” against storms, with multiple feeds serving critical facilities, Collins said.

A comparison of progress made following the 2003 storm and last week’s outages produces a mixed conclusion.

In sheer numbers of customers returned to service, crews within three days of Hurricane Elvis restored service to 163,000 of the 338,000 homes and businesses that lost power, according to news reports from the time. That compares to the 141,000 or so restored during the first three days after Saturday’s storm. But proportionately, fewer than half of the customers who lost power in 2003 had gotten service back after three days, compared to 75 percent this year. 

Also, in 2003, the restoration effort slowed considerably after the large major circuits were repaired. Twelve days after the storm, nearly 16,000 customers remained without power, and it wasn’t until 17 days after the event that all homes and businesses had electricity again.

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