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Keys to Making the Most of Mutual Aid


When we talk about mutual aid, it’s usually about the lineworkers who show up to help their neighbors. We don’t share much about the utility directors who find themselves needing to request the help.

To get that perspective, along with some insight on using the help most effectively, we checked in with Philip Haley. He’s the Division Director of Power & Light for Danville Utilities in Danville, Virginia.

Twice within two weeks this summer, pop-up thunderstorms rolled through Danville, bringing 40-to-45-mph wind gusts, causing extensive damage, and prompting requests for mutual aid.

“With AMI, we know instantly the bulk number of outages we have,” Philip said. “And through SCADA, we know how many of our feeders locked out.”

But to find out what it’s going to take to get power restored, Philip and his team have to know what’s damaged.

“The first thing we do in any storm is assess damage,” he said. “It’s the critical first step.”

So critical that Kenny Roberts, Mutual Aid Coordinator and Supervisor of Safety & Training at ElectriCities, said, “Every hour you spend on damage assessment can save a day of restoration time.”

Gregg Welch, ElectriCities’ Vice President of Member Outreach and Education, added, “Performing a damage assessment helps determine not only whether you need help and how much help you need, but also what type of help and what equipment is required.”

And, Philip said, you can’t rush it. “We take the time to ride all the feeders and go to areas where we have large clusters of outages to determine the extent of the damage.”

When an initial damage assessment reveals they need help, Philip said, “I call Kenny.”

While Kenny reaches out to ElectriCities members to see who’s available, Philip and team continue assessing damage. “At that point, we’re not thinking, ‘Where are we going to get crews to help us?’ We know Kenny and the rest of the public power community have our backs.”

Philip said it doesn’t take long for Kenny to get back to him. Within an hour to an hour and a half, “Kenny can tell us what communities are coming to our aid, who the crew supervisor is going to be, how many people are on the crew, and what equipment they’re bringing.”

The next question from Kenny is, “Is that going to do it, or do you need more?” At that point, the Danville team has a good overview of the system damage so they can make any needed adjustments.

Before mutual aid crews arrive, Philip said, “We isolate the areas those crews will be working on. We want to be sure we can get them in our system working quickly and, most importantly, safely.”

To simplify the restoration process, “We like mutual aid crews to be in a stationary position,” he said. “Once we know we have the mutual aid crews in position, our crews can go further out into the territory and start working those more isolated pockets of outages.”

That gets everyone’s power back on faster.

Philip said thorough damage assessments and proper planning are key to making the most of mutual aid. “The process speeds up the time of restoration considerably.”

But he doesn’t stop there. “We make a big deal about it when crews come in from another community. We let our community know which towns are sending us help,” he said. “We make sure our community knows the power of public power.”

To learn more about ElectriCities’ Emergency Assistance Program and mutual aid, contact Kenny Roberts.

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