Electric crews head south to help in storm

DELAWARE — When Hurricane Sandy threatened to pummel Delaware’s coastline in 2012, Kimberly Schlichting of DEMEC said Delaware leaders were worried they wouldn’t have the help they needed to survive the storm.

At the time, Ms. Schlichting was out of town attending a meeting in Ohio. When she returned to Delaware, she received a phone call she would never forget.

“The general manager from Lewes called me and said, ‘Hey Kimberly, if we have a storm, will one of our other members be able to assist me,’ because he was at the beach,” she said.

DEMEC, or the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation, is a joint action agency representing the nine municipalities that provide public electricity throughout the state of Delaware.

Ms. Schlichting knew they could do something to help.
“I pushed all the documents off my desk and I just started calling people that I knew because it was the first time that I realized that we wouldn’t be able to use all of our in-state resources. That’s when our involvement with our national organization, the American Public Power Association, became important,” she said.

“We got by pretty much unscathed by Sandy, but we realized as a national group we needed to do something more and be more proactive to help communities get power back in crisis.”

Ms. Schlichting began working side-by-side with other leaders from across the United States to create a mutual aid working group, performing table-top exercises several times a year to be better prepared for disasters.
“It’s role-playing to help us hone and perfect our responses in a real-life crisis,” she explained. “It’s a great working group for us, a great affiliation. Everybody is just so responsive.”

The experience has given leaders the opportunity to experiment with the idea of sending their own power crews to areas around the country, offering assistance where it’s needed most.

Wednesday, Sept. 3, was one such occasion. Through DEMEC, Delaware sent a crew of nine men to Florida just hours ahead of when Hurricane Dorian was set to arrive on its shoreline.

Crewmembers include Kent Schmeusser, Art Granger and Scott Blomquist of New Castle, Gary Johnston and Dale Breeding of Milford, and William Shorter, Gregory Shevchuck, Jacob McMaster and Timothy Lindell of Newark, according to DEMEC Director of Media Relations and Communications Heather Contant.

“For me, being able to send crews down to Florida, if we are ever in need, how can we ask for help if we are not willing to give of ourselves,” Ms. Schlichting added. “There’s nothing more powerful than people helping people. It’s what we do.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Johnston visited Navajo Nation to help bring electricity to that region. Ms. Schlichting said it was no surprise when he volunteered to go on this trip, too.

“We hadn’t sent crews out from the municipal utilities before and thought this would be a good opportunity to do so when the community was not in a crisis. They saw how much it was appreciated and that helped give them confidence to do the work in a crisis,” she explained. “Their lives were changed forever because of the experience they had out there. It was a strong, binding experience for my guys that went out there. I watched the dynamics between them and the Navajo people who, in the past, had been all but forgotten about.”

Linemen on these trips, and back home, tend to work 12-plus hours a day, she added.
But that doesn’t deter them from making a difference.

“This is what we do. We help people in a time of need. If we were ever in that situation where we needed people to help us, we can’t expect other people to help us if we’re not willing to help others,” she said. “And this storm, especially, they were calling it at one point the biggest storm on the planet. It was massive. It’s better to have people there if needed. And [we] have crews back home that can cover the absent linemen. Our other members who did not send crews have already said they would step up if needed. There’s already a network of backup to step in should they need help.”

Jeremy Tucker of Delaware Electric Coop said, “At this point, we are holding our crews here in Delaware. The track still remains uncertain and we want to be sure our crews are available if the Hurricane moves closer to the Delaware Coast.”

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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