Here are some challenges Ameren faces when restoring electricity during an outage
This is some of the equipment and apparatus Ameren Illinois workers use while out in the field.
Mobile storm trailer
This is a storm trailer that is a 50-foot-long trailer stocked with supplies, such as splices, connections, bolts, fuses, wire and brackets. Ameren Illinois has eight trailers that each can contain enough equipment to supply about 400 linemen and restore electricity to hundreds of customers.
Trailers can be deployed before or after storms to areas that are expected to or have the greatest damage.
A mobile substation is a large emergency power source that can temporarily replace a regular substation. Ameren Illinois has 20 mobile substations that can take over operations for regular substations damaged by a storm or incident.
The substations also are used to prevent outages when regular substations are undergoing planned maintenance.
Workers have set up mobile substations eight times this spring. Half of those were because of emergencies, and the other half were for planned work, said Kelly Bauza, Substation and Relay superintendent for Ameren Illinois Division 6.
Workers have begun training with drones in order to inspect lines and poles in areas that may be hard to get to with a lineman and truck. It can be used to survey damage.
“This allows us to get to areas that otherwise would be inaccessible or too dangerous to get to by our crews and field checkers,” said Ameren Illinois Engineer Matthew Landreth.
The drone allows workers to determine if there is a downed line in an area that might be blocked by a large group of trees or a locked gate. Workers can assess the situation, see if there is damage, and supervisors could relay information to lineman.
“We could quickly and more accurately pinpoint a problem, so we don’t have to send a lineman out to check it out,” Landreth said.
Vapor extraction unit
Crews use vapor extraction units that help locate underground gas leaks.
Workers can use the machine to extract gas out of the ground, and pinpoint where a gas leak is located. Probes connect to tubes to extract natural gas. The equipment has been used extract mine gas out of the ground, and remove migrating gas from underneath buildings.
“With migrating gas you want to make sure you’re able to control the migration, the distance of the migration, where it may be migrating to. Natural gas is lighter than air, so it’s going to follow the path of least resistance. It’s going to follow a conduit or an old abandoned pipe,” said Mark Popov, superintendent of Gas Operations. “If it gets in a wrong location it can cause an incident, which is why it’s important to have this type of equipment.”
Bucket trucks are used to maintain and troubleshoot overhead electrical equipment. Bucket trucks go as high as 50 to 60 feet.
The workers also have a lot of equipment, such as special tools to reach high up fastenings, hard hats, safety goggles, vets, special sleeves and gloves they wear while working next to charged electrical lines.
“It is extremely challenging,” said lineman Jon Coleman. “It demands a lot physically (and) mentally. You work a lot of hours, especially during storm season.”
Residents can prepare
Ameren Illinois encourages people to prepare for power outages well in advance.
The utility encourage families to have storm kits that includes weather radios, first aid kits, critical medication, sleeping bags, cooler, non-perishable food, flashlights, lanterns, batteries, emergency candles, paper plates, plastic utensils, a manual can opener, hand sanitizer and a battery-powered alarm radio, among other things.
Ameren recommends people keep about $200 in cash in their emergency kit as well.
“If the power is out, guess what, there’s no ATM,” said Paula Nixon, community relations coordinator for Ameren Illinois.
People should also have about one gallon of bottled water per day per person, Nixon said.
Supplies for a storm kit could cost less than $100, Nixon said.
“This investment can go two or three days,” Nixon said. “It goes a long way to ensure the safety and comfort of your family in an outage situation.”