The scenario proposed by the Department of Energy for a training exercise was all too familiar for Sam Houston EC, nestled near the Texas Gulf Coast. The hurricane’s winds would punch above 110 mph with storm surge beyond 13 feet.
Hardened by hurricanes Rita and Ike, the co-op provided vital insight in disaster preparedness and power restoration in the latest federal disaster exercise dubbed Clear Path V.
"The co-op culture means planning and being prepared," said David Bell, chief technology officer at the co-op based in Livingston, Texas. "We are smaller than the large IOUs. We operate leaner. We are prepared with the technology and innovation and practice when it comes to restoring power."
Sam Houston EC was among the 160 representatives from the electricity, oil and gas and telecom industries that joined DOE and Federal Emergency Management Administration officials in Houston for the 36-hour drill May 31.
Under the scenario, "Hurricane Azalea" made landfall in Houston and then plowed into Dallas, knocking out all of Sam Houston's 74,000 meters. One goal was to examine emergency preparedness of the energy and communications sectors.
"We have an emergency operations plan which we took with us," said Bell. "In the context of an exercise, we were able to go step by step, day by day. More participants didn't have their plan with them than did. Co-ops are leading the way. It made us feel really proud of our industry."
Bell and Keith Stapleton, chief communications officer at Sam Houston, discussed in pre-exercise forums how co-ops prepare for devastating storms and prioritize power restoration.
"We have our own internal telecommunications," Bell said. "Even if our own internal communications fail, we can go back to how we operated before we had that."
Sam Houston has re-energized thousands of meters since installing an AMI system, which alerts the co-op to where outages are without members reporting.
Like many co-ops, Sam Houston also has partnerships with organizations and entities both in Texas and in other states to ensure supplies of fuel, equipment, food and lodging after disaster strikes.
"We have it down to a science," said Stapleton. "We have alliances with contractors more toward the East Coast who would not be affected by a Gulf Coast hurricane. We came away from the exercise very pleased that we had the opportunity to take part in it."