Hometown Heroes: Carolyn Justice-Hinson Talks 2018 Hurricane Season

What is your role at the Fayetteville Public Works Commission?

I’m the Communications and Community Relations officer. I manage internal, external, and crisis communication—everything from educational outreach to sponsorships to community support.

How long have you been in this role?

I’ve been at PWC since 1997, and basically in the same role, but it’s changed! When I started here, we really didn’t use email, and we had a 2-page website. But the thing that has changed the most is we all realized how stakeholder communications, community relations, and all the proactive things that we do strengthen our relationships.

How do you reach so many different people last-minute, in a crisis like Florence?

We communicate frequently. We start with our grassroots channels—our commissioners, city council, and stakeholders—who can help support the message once it goes out. With Florence, we kept our message consistent. We communicated the same message on media and social media that we did with our employees and with the city council. Everyone got the same thing across the board.

How do you quantify the scope of Florence?

We had approximately 60 percent of our customers who, at some point, lost services. That’s about 50,000 people. That was quite a bit. But within 72 hours of when we were able to get out and start making repairs, the majority of those were back on.

What was your toughest moment?

The storm wouldn’t move on. That holding pattern. Having to tell customers “We can’t get out and start restoring services yet.” In all my time here, we’ve never had a storm or situation like that.

What was the most encouraging/uplifting thing?

I was so proud of our utility as a whole, our team, and our communications. But we got a Facebook message from someone in public affairs at Fort Bragg. They said they were taking some graduate courses, and they were going to recommend to their professor that we be a communications case study. My whole staff was like, “Oh my gosh!”

But we don’t do it for the praise—we do it so our customers are happy and our employees can do their jobs without customers being frustrated.

Mutual Aid At Its Best- Hurricane Season 2018

On September 14, Hurricane Florence made itself comfortable above the Carolina coast, soaking the state for days; then, barely one month later, Hurricane Michael left a mark of its own. Thanks to a coordinated communications plan and the extraordinary efforts of our brave utility workers, public power communities throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia were prepared for the worst, and soon had their power restored.

It wasn’t the most powerful storm ever to make landfall over North Carolina. But when Hurricane Florence swept ashore as a Category 1 storm on September 14, it brought with it three days of unrelenting rain and wind that leveled power lines and inundated homes.

Almost one month later, Hurricane Michael smashed into the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane; then, weakened but still dangerous, it tracked across the Carolinas, uprooting trees and darkening homes as it passed.

A detailed chronicle of the toll exacted by these storms could fill the pages of a book. Let it suffice to say that at the peak of its wrath, Hurricane Florence left nearly 1 million North Carolinians without power; at its worst, Hurricane Michael plunged half a million people into darkness. Rivers overflowed their banks, sweeping cars from bridges and roads. At times, downed trees crushed homes and prevented emergency services from reaching ailing residents. In total, the two storms wreaked more than $31 billion in damage and cost 44 North Carolinians their lives.

And yet:

We showed up.

Three days after Florence made landfall, 80 percent of Fayetteville customers and 83 percent of New Bern customers had their power restored. These were two of our hardest hit communities. Twenty-six member communities reported no outages at all. Twenty-four hours after Michael swept through, public power crews had restored electricity to the majority of our customers. Braving venomous snakes, falling tree limbs, flash floods, and the risk of electrocution, they did not stop until the roads were clear and the lights were back on.

This was made possible by coordinated planning between state and local officials, a unified communications strategy, and the tireless efforts of public power workers and emergency services. We thank and honor the extraordinary individuals who, at nature’s worst, showed their best, and who—quite literally—helped put our state back together.

Food Processing is Heating Up Around Rocky Mount

In the last decade or so, more and more food processing companies have set up shop in eastern North Carolina. According to data from the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, an agency dedicated to economic development in Nash and Edgecombe counties, at least a dozen food processing companies are located within a 30-mile radius of Rocky Mount.The agency notes several factors that contribute to this clustering, including the excellent highway system, business-friendly tax rates, and attractive incentives from state and local governments and from the Golden Leaf Foundation. But the reasons most often cited? The area’s convenient central East Coast location and its motivated and talented workforce.

For Belgium-based Poppies International, those factors, as well as reliable electric service, have helped drive the company’s success in its U.S. headquarters in Rocky Mount for the past 17 years.
Poppies International ships its frozen cream puffs and mini éclairs to buyers across the United States, Canada, and Asia. Its location in Rocky Mount’s Whitaker Business & Industry Center means easy access to Interstate 95 and U.S. Highway 64, as well as proximity to the Port of Norfolk.

With Poppies’ automated production systems, refrigeration requirements, and round-the-clock operation, reliable electric service is critical. The company worked with Rocky Mount Public Utilities to install a generator that not only serves as emergency back-up power, it switches on at times of peak electricity use to help reduce the cost. Poppies’ controller, Bobby Davis, says, “We’re very happy with the reliability of power and water and for the responsive customer service we get from the City of Rocky Mount.”

Going Digital Pays off in Shelby

Before the city of Shelby implemented its mobile service order system, service calls involved a lot of paper, a lot of trips to and from customer sites and the office, a lot of time, and a lot of room for error. “It was very cumbersome,” explains Sam Clark, customer services manager for the city of Shelby. “But at the time, that was just our ‘normal.’” Upgrading the city’s CIS to NorthStar provided an opportunity to create a new normal, thanks to mCare, NorthStar’s add-on mobile workforce management app.

“Now everything is digital,” Clark explains. Each filed tech has a tablet or a laptop, and they receive work orders from CSRs in real-time. The filed techs enter service notes, including photos, directly into a customer’s account. They can even warn other techs about rowdy pets at a residence. “Techs are basically CSRs in the field now,” Clark says. The result is quicker response time, huge cost and time savings, and accurate and consistent messaging across all levels of the municipality. As far as advice on implementation, Clark recommends using iPads and says on whatever device you choose, be sure to budget for Wi-Fi cards so your field techs can stay connected.

Clark says, “If you’re still printing work orders, no matter what size utility you are, you need to make every effort possible to go digital.” He says the significant return on your investment makes the cost on the front-end well worth it. “It’s a no-brainer.”

N.C. Linemen Meet in Morganton for More Rodeo Competition

A little over two weeks after the country’s public power lineworkers packed up and headed home from the rodeo in Wake Forest, lineworkers from 17 public power communities in North Carolina met in Morganton for the 2018 North Carolina Association of Municipal Electric Systems (NCAMES) Rodeo. Brooks Kirby, director of Morganton’s electric system, said the NCAMES Rodeo is where you’ll see “the best of the best of the linemen in the municipalities of North Carolina.” The lineworkers didn’t disappoint.

Competing in many of the same events as in the national rodeo, 27 apprentice and 46 journeyman lineworkers demonstrated their best techniques and safe work practices for friendly but tough competition in Catawba Meadows Park.

Scott Hardison and Angel Valdovinos from Kinston Public Utilities took the top two spots in the Apprentice category. The City of High Point’s Isaac Spillman landed the third.
A remarkable 15 of the 23 journeyman competitors received perfect overall scores. Dustin Prince and Jon Rose from the Town of Apex took first and third place, respectively. Greenville Utilities Commission’s David Guy placed second.

Future lineworkers from local high schools and community colleges were onsite to participate in mock rodeo events and practice working with tools of the trade under the watchful eyes of Morganton lineworkers. Looks like the competition in the Apprentice category may be tougher next year!

North Carolina Hosts the Largest National Public Power Rodeo Ever

It’s official: The 2018 Public Power Lineworkers Rodeo was a rousing success. With an estimated 2,500-3,000 attendees, the American Public Power Association declared it the largest ever!
On that sunny Saturday in late April, 66 journeyman teams and 145 apprentices from municipally owned utilities across the country showed up in Wake Forest. They competed in events demonstrating lineworker skills and safe work practices—climbing power poles, tossing ropes, hanging transformers, rescuing injured workers, and more.
“Being a lineworker requires tremendous skill and knowledge,” said ElectriCities CEO Roy Jones. “We were honored to host this event in North Carolina for the first time and to enable customers to get an up-close look at workers as they showcased their talents.”

Opening Ceremony
The 2018 rodeo kicked off like no other. After welcome messages from public power dignitaries Mike Hyland, the Association’s senior vice president of engineering services; Walter Haase, chair of the Association’s board of directors; and Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest took the stage to declare, “Public power lineworkers are the backbone of America!” Forest went on to thank lineworkers for their role in making our communities work and for their help and sacrifices during hurricanes and natural disasters.

The Wake Forest Fire Department Honor Guard presented the colors during the flag ceremony that featured former champions of the North Carolina Association of Municipal Electric Systems (NCAMES) rodeo. Briley Hussey’s beautiful rendition of the national anthem was the perfect lead in to the rodeo’s first-ever flyover. Performed by the Raleigh-based Bandit Flight Team, the flyover was a huge hit with the crowd.

After an invocation by former Wake Forest Electric employee John Thrift, the 2017 International Lineman Hall of Fame inductees led a ceremony honoring fallen linemen. The flyover team returned to perform the Missing Man formation. It symbolized lineworkers’ tight formation and losing one of their own, who remains always there, irreplaceable.
With that, Hyland officially opened the games. “Now it’s time to rodeo!”

NC Crews Had a Strong Showing
Representing North Carolina were lineworkers from Apex, Benson, Fayetteville, Gastonia, Greenville, High Point, Kinston, Rocky Mount, Shelby, Statesville, Tarboro, and Wake Forest.
After tough competition and being judged on safety, work practices, neatness, ability, and equipment handling, only 20 journeyman teams had no deductions. Among them were the Greenville Utilities Commission team and the NCAMES team, which consisted of linemen from the Town of Apex. From there, total time to complete events decides the winners. The NCAMES team placed 11th overall, and the Greenville Utilities Commission team took the 15th spot—an impressive showing against the best of the best in the country.
Of the 145 apprentices competing, 35 represented public power communities in North Carolina, and seven of those finished in the top 50 overall. Adam Peace from High Point finished 12th overall, and Matthew Board from Greenville Utilities Commission took the 15th spot.
Great job, guys! We’ll see you at the 2019 rodeo in Colorado Springs.

ElectriCities Veterans Among International Lineman Hall of Fame Inductees
Before the 2018 Public Power Lineworkers Rodeo, ElectriCities senior safety specialist Woodie Wilson, who led the team that built this year’s competition course, pointed out that someone from North Carolina had been on the awards stage at the national rodeo every year. Though no North Carolina rodeo competitors made it to the stage this year, Wilson’s statement remains true. At this year’s awards banquet, Wilson himself, along with fellow ElectriCities alum Mike Byrd, was inducted into the International Lineman Hall of Fame.
Throughout Wilson’s career, he has worked directly with line crews to ensure that they perform tasks safely and efficiently. His expertise has impacted many. Nearly a week after receiving the award, Wilson was still beaming. “I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” he said.
Byrd has served as a lineman, crew leader, and instructor and is credited with being instrumental in redesigning North Carolina’s Electric Lineman Academy. He is known for telling his students, “I don’t want to be the best lineman; I want to be the oldest.”
This year’s other inductees are: William Dwain Edwards, Bob Grauberger, Tony Jordan, and Joe Young. Congratulations to all!

Volunteers Made the Rodeo Go
The Public Power Lineworkers Rodeo simply couldn’t happen without the help of several amazing volunteers. This year, more than 200 people from 20 states donated their time to help the rodeo go. Whether at the Raleigh Convention Center or the rodeo site in Wake Forest, they chipped in as greeters, auditors, judges, scorers, and so much more.
But before those helpful folks could report for duty, the competition site had to be built. That means some way, somehow 200 utility poles had to be set. And that was just the first step in a long process. Over eight weeks, crews from 17 public power communities helped create 10 event stations for each of the nine pole-climbing events in the rodeo. That means much more than attaching a crossarm or 20. Event stations must be built to strict APPA-defined specifications. Rodeo judges inspect each one a day or two before the rodeo. Stations not built to spec have to be corrected, pronto.

Woodie Wilson, who was charged with overseeing site construction, said his goal was to have every event pole meet specs and not require a single change. “I met my goal,” he announced proudly.

Huge thanks to these communities and utilities that sent crews to help:
Fayetteville PWC
Greenville Utilities Commission
High Point
New Bern
Rocky Mount
Wake Forest
Santee Cooper
Lee Electrical Construction

Creative Recruiting in JoCo Public Power Communities

The four public power communities in Johnston County—Benson, Clayton, Selma, and Smithfield—have teamed up with Johnston County Schools, Johnston County Industries, ElectriCities, and five North Carolina community colleges to create a lineworker career development program to help address industry-wide workforce woes.

Benson town manager, Matt Zapp, is one of the champions of the program. “I sit on the ElectriCities board, and as the overseer of the electric system in Benson, I have seen a definitive vacuum of available linework personnel,” Zapp says. Because competition from broadband companies and investor-owned utilities has been hard on public power utilities, he explains, “We had to be very creative in an effort to backfill our current vacancies and prepare for future retirements that are coming to our communities.”

10 Saturdays
The program is for rising seniors—those graduating June 2019—in nine Johnston County high schools. Over 10 Saturdays during the 2018-2019 school year, interested students will get a total of 80 hours of linework training. Safety and training experts from ElectriCities will lead the training, with backup from senior-level lineworkers from the four communities as needed. Zapp explains, “So they graduate on Friday, June 7, 2019, and they will have been exposed to 80 hours of electric linework practicality.” David Young, manager of safety and training at ElectriCities, adds, “Once students go through the Saturday classes, they’ll have a really good grip on what being a lineworker entails.”

12 Paid Internships
Participants who are 18 by June 1st of their senior year can competitively interview for 12 openings for paid internships, or pre-apprenticeships, located across the four communities. Pre-apprenticeship participants will work 360 hours from June to August, making $12.50/hour. Cost of the paid internships will be covered by Johnston County Industries, an agency supporting at-risk youth.

5 Community Colleges
Those who complete the pre-apprenticeships will get a full scholarship to one of the five N.C. community colleges that have lineworker programs. Zapp explains, “They’re going to get a full trade career training, zero debt, and a guaranteed job. Right now, 100 percent of those who graduated from the Nash Community College lineworker program—both the fall and spring sessions—were employed the week following graduation.”

5 Years of Career Support
Support doesn’t stop with the community college scholarships. After graduation, for those who choose to work in a public power community in North Carolina, the state will cover 100 percent of their educational track for their five-year or 8,000-hour working program to become a journeyman-level lineworker.