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BGE: Restoring Power Not an Easy Job

BGE offers a demonstration on just how difficult it is for utility workers to repair downed lines and get power restored following a major storm.

At the peak of Hurricane Irene last August, more than 800,000 homes in Maryland were without power.

A majority of BGE’s 3,400 employees, along with worked around the clock for more than a week to restore all of the power. Many customers were patient, while many others grew frustrated after living in the dark for days with no electricity.

Veteran BGE workers like Gordon Johnson understood that frustration—he has seen his fair share of hurricanes and blizzards during his 30-year career with the utility company. But he also wants customers to know that restoring power is often not as simple as patching a wire or flipping a switch.

“You’re out there in all the elements and what we’re often dealing with is dangerous conditions,” Johnson said. “It’s ingrained into all BGE workers to work quickly to get power restored, but it’s also important to follow all safety protocols to keep the workers safe.”

Just how those workers stay safe and prepare for different scenarios was on full display Wednesday at BGE’s training center in White Marsh

The utility company offered a tour of its outside training center where safety instructors allowed members of the media (including myself and Lutherville-Timonium Patch editor Nick DiMarco) to view and even try first-hand the different stations BGE trainees practice on before going into the field. The demonstration came on the eve of hurricane season, which begins on June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

As part of the demonstration, DiMarco got to put on a harness along with 50 pounds of equipment and practiced climbing a utility pole while I got to go 50 feet in the air inside a bucket truck and practiced repairing a wire while wearing cumbersome protective gloves.

Both of us left the demonstration with a new sense of appreciation for the work done by BGE and other utility companies.

“You get really hot, really fast in this equipment and we were in a controlled environment,” DiMarco said. “This work is definitely more difficult than it looks and it doesn’t look that easy to begin with. I can’t imagine doing this in the elements with the pressure of customers waiting to have their power restored.”

Johnson, a senior utility instructor with BGE, said it takes about a year of training before a worker is fully prepared to go into the field. There are times, he said, when trainees climb the utility pole, become scared of heights and be finished.

“We try to prepare them for any possible scenario they may face, but it’s impossible to always know of everything,” Johnson said.

BGE safety supervisor Mike Laker said the training of utility workers is intensive and the training center works to ensure workers leave with the ability to work in a timely, yet safe, manner.

“Just like the police department and the fire department, our training course tries to make our trainees aware of anything that could take place during a job,” he said. “It’s important to expect the unexpected.”

BGE spokesman Linda Foy said while the point of Wednesday’s demonstration was to show the challenges utility workers face, she knows that often means little to those who have lost power.

Foy added that the utility is constantly reassessing its approach to power restoration, especially following the damage caused by record storms like

“After every major storm and every major event we have a 'lesson learned session' where we bring everyone together to discuss what went well and what we may be able to improve upon," she said. "That is an ongoing thing something even now we’re doing as it relates to Hurricane Irene.

“What the customers need to know is that we are constantly trying to improve the way we do things. Every group of employees are involved in that process."

Foy continued: "Our customers also should understand it is important for them to take proactive steps before a storm so that they have the necessary supplies and are ready themselves, because if they wait until the day before the storm, it may already be too late.”

Donna J. Goldinger May 31, 2012 at 04:56 PM
As a mother of a lineman, I definitely appreciate the lengths BGE goes to in order to ensure safety. After hearing some of the "storm stories", I am very often left with a feeling of fear for my son. It's a tough, tough job. One he absolutely loves. Thank you BGE.
Mari May 31, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Newth, we had buried lines in our old neighborhood and were out for 7 days after Irene because an above-ground, pole-mounted transformer blew. I'm not sure if those can be buried or not. It went out Thursday night, a BGE employee told me early Saturday or Sunday morning what was wrong and that it would be fixed soon because of the size of the outage, but we didn't get any response until Wednesday. I don't know if it was coincidental or not but on Tuesday, I called into the Chip Franklin show on WBAL when that lying so and so Rob Gould was on for BGE saying that all major power outages were fixed and they were down to just scattered outages when our entire neighborhood for block and blocks and blocks, encompassing several hundred houses was totally out; our townhouse development alone had over 140 homes that were out. I can still recall Franklin calling me a liar after the call was finished. However, we did have dozens of people out there working the next day, so... Since then, I do not believe one word that comes out of Gould's mouth if I cannot confirm it for myself. Trust us on the smart meters - uh, yeah, NO!
George Helm June 04, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Join the crowd as I was also out for a bunch of days and no wires were down , simply a fallen branch leaning on some overhead wiring and rather than just removing the branch they turned the electric off and came back 7 days later, removed the branch in about 5 minutes, left the area and turned the electric back on 30 minutes later! I was told that because my area is not heavily populated other priorities came first. Luckily we all have generators and are used to it!
Jake Bush June 14, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Get used to it. It's only going to get worse. The people running these storms have no idea what it takes to restore service in safe timely fashion. The so called linemen/utility workers of today are a bunch of whinning candy asses. If its dark,or they don't feel comfortable, or you yelled at them or there mommies didn't burp them that morning you not going to get anything out of them. Has proud and professional lineman for over thirty years I'm offend by this BS. The old lineman are gone and this new generation didn't even take the time to listen to what we were say. Invest in a generator your going to need it.
George Karadimas June 30, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Can A BGE Official explain to us here, How the SMART METERS and their timeliness of the power outage information propagation of the storm, to BGE Command and Control center, is going to speed up the power outage effort in remediation of the storm damage?

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