Yesterday morning, we closed out another significant chapter in the history of your cooperative when we restored power to the last account that was without electricity due to the destruction of Hurricane Michael. This storm, in terms of overall damage to our system and the number of outages we experienced, ranks in the top two ever for Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative. During the course of the storm, and while we were in the field restoring power, there were over 403 separate outage events impacting 26,895 Members (some individuals lost power multiple times), including 16,419 without power at the storm peak.
This storm, perhaps because it came ashore so far away, was a bit of a sleeper and, accordingly, was easy to discount as just another late summer storm…but it certainly was not. Over the four days and four nights of restoration, we encountered and replaced 67 broken poles (found yet another this morning), restrung miles of downed line, and cut into hundreds of down trees…all in four days and four nights. We feel very fortunate to have all back on…there are still hundreds around our state who have yet to be restored and we send our wishes of safety for all still in the field restoring power to those they serve.
That said, all of us who work here for you, want to thank you for your admirable patience and for the hundreds and hundreds of supportive messages and safety well-wishes we received from all of you. You will likely never know the persuasive power of those notes, especially when we are going as hard as we can and the end seems to be a constantly moving target. Your team here is highly dedicated, but knowing that all of you are in our corner is a motivator like no other, especially when we are rolling out every day and night knowing that your electric system is severely damaged…and you are without power. We genuinely care what every single one of you thinks of our cooperative, and I sincerely hope that shows in our efforts to keep your lights on and in your interaction and communications with your cooperative team here at MEC.
Safety, as always, was front and center in this effort and we are blessed that we came through another major storm effort with no major injuries. As you are likely aware, we did have a young man from a contract crew come into contact with an energized line, but he suffered only two small burns and is safely home with his wife and daughter…we are so very thankful for that. Thanks to all of you who kept him and his family, and all our employees and visitors in your thoughts and prayers…they were definitely answered as this young man is so incredibly fortunate, and his injury was the only one of any type, or severity, suffered during the four days and nights we were hard at work in the field.
In any event such as this, there are lessons to be learned and opportunities to improve and while your cooperative is always among the first to restore power to all its Members, we’ll never cease our efforts to get even more efficient in those situations. For example, we are aware that many of you encountered issues with our phone system when trying to get through to the outage line. Unfortunately, whenever we encounter heavy rain, we experience problems with our phone service, and while that service is provided to MEC by a vendor, it is nonetheless our responsibility when it comes to you, rest assured, we will aggressively seek out a solution to that issue. Additionally, we will look into more capacity for incoming calls if it turns out that was a factor. It is difficult enough to be without electricity but being unable to have confidence that your power supplier knows you are without, turns insecurity into frustration, and frustration is the foundation for anger. We don’t want you to be frustrated or angry, and we’ll take advantage of all our learning opportunities to continually improve.
Our success in restoring power after the storm can be directly attributed to one very important factor…teamwork. We are very fortunate to be part of a bigger cooperative family that stretches across our great nation and Cooperative Principle #6 …Cooperation among Cooperatives never looms larger than when storms pound someone’s system, and their membership is in need. Your strong MEC team was reinforced by 87 additional line crew professionals, and tree crew members, for this outage restoration effort and they fit seamlessly into our efforts to get your lights back on as quickly, and more importantly, as safely, as possible. We are so very thankful for not only their outstanding efforts but for the great friendships and bonds that were established between our employees and these gracious visitors. Those bonds are so important as these men literally live together day and night and often trust each other with their very well-being.
Recognizing that many of those we serve are in need, makes major outage restorations extreme, difficult, and highly pressure-packed events, and the opportunity for those repairing your system to share a story about their children, tell a good hunting story, or laugh out loud, is almost as important as food and rest in these intense restorations. Relationships are often created during these events that last a lifetime, or at least until the next storm. Many, many times MEC line crews have ventured out to the aid of other cooperatives, and this time, when the call for help went out from here, cooperative and contractor crews responded in kind, and we are so grateful for their dedication and hard work on behalf of our Members.
Accordingly, we would like to send our special thanks to those who answered our call for assistance. Crews from the following organizations worked alongside your MEC employees day and night to get the lights back on. They are:
- Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative (VA)
- BARC Electric Cooperative (VA)
- Pitt & Greene Electric Cooperative (NC)
- Santee Electric Cooperative (SC)
- Albemarle Electric Cooperative (NC)
- Pee Dee Electric Cooperative (SC)
- Lauren Electric Cooperative (SC)
- Davis Elliott (VA and KY)
- River City Construction (NC)
- Asplundh Tree Experts (VA)
We’d also like to express our appreciation to the other first responders across our service territory who are diligent and capable and whose efforts are critical in the restoration process. Whether removing trees from the road so we can get to your outage, blocking traffic while we rehang conductor, or calling us with downed line locations, these individuals and organizations are our valuable partners 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and we are very appreciative of all that they do to assist and keep everyone safe and mobile. They include:
- The Virginia State Police
- The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)
- County Sheriff Departments
- 911 Dispatchers
- Town Police
- Local Fire Departments
- Local Rescue Squads
- And all other emergency personnel.
While our line crews are front and center and are certainly the most visible part of our restoration efforts, there are so many others making meaningful contributions in the background. Vendors for food, fuel, accommodations, equipment, supplies, and the list goes on and on. We would like to express our appreciation to the following organizations, companies, and individuals for their contributions to this considerable undertaking and any others we may have overlooked. Thank you to:
- The Bobbin’ Cork (special thanks to Jonathan Chumney who donated sandwiches for all the crews and employees)
- Rising Smoke BBQ
- Wilson’s Bros. BBQ
- Hardees (Chase City)
- Occoneechee State Park
- Staunton River State Park
- Food Lion, Chase City (thanks Deli)
- Chase City Produce
- Lake Motel (Clarksville)
- Best Western (South Hill)
- Camber Inn (Gretna)
- Italian Delight
- Mr. Chad Conner
- Foster Fuels
- Gretna Dairy Queen
- Sunny Bucks Diner
- Food Lion (Gretna)
- Wal-Mart (Altavista)
- Comfort Inn (Danville)
- T&P Quality Cleaning
- And the many individuals who dropped off food, water, and drinks at our offices and/or offered those items to our men in the field.
Lastly, but far, far from the least…I want to thank the employees of your cooperative. I am very proud to work alongside every single one of them. They are a special group of people who share the mission of doing the right thing by you, and whether it’s our mechanics, customer service reps, accounting team members, warehousemen, vice presidents, service techs, and everyone else, they play an important role in getting the lights back on. When we have a major outage, ALL hands here are on deck, and whether it's climbing a pole, bird-dogging for a visiting crew, making sandwiches for the line workers, securing overnight arrangements for those providing assistance, answering Members' calls, or one of the thousands of other things that must be addressed in major outage situations…they are laser-focused on the task at hand. Every one of them takes whatever job they are doing very, very seriously and with an appropriate sense of urgency, and teamwork at its best is on full display. Rank and traditional daily duties do not matter, ALL pitch it and do whatever it takes to get it done and get it done well. They are proud to serve the great people of Southside Virginia and NEVER take for granted the fact that you count on them for something crucially important to you, your family, and your business.
And as your cooperative slowly returns to “normal”, wraps up repairs, and cleans up the remaining mess…we again thank all of you for your patience and support, and for being Members of your small, but very proud electric cooperative. We are honored to work for you and we have a strong appreciation for how much impact our efforts have on the quality of life for our membership. This has been a long and trying year for our area from a weather perspective and, frankly, we are very weary of Mother Nature’s tantrums, however; whenever she is misbehaving, you can count on us. We’ll be standing ready to take on whatever she throws our way, do our part and everything safely possible to get your life back to normal, and once again enjoy all that’s made possible by your electric service.
With Respect and Appreciation,
John C. Lee and the employees of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative