Setting the Stage for Safety

A sea of utility vehicles parked at the Livingston Mall in New Jersey as part of FEU’s recent restoration event.

August 24, 2020

During large service restoration events – like the one that just wrapped up after Tropical Storm Isaias – thousands of workers travel to the affected area to help restore power to customers. When these workers arrive, the host company – in this case FirstEnergy Utilities (FEU) – must provide lodging, food and other necessities to visiting personnel.

To make these services available, the host company creates staging sites, which function like small cities. The sites have everything a visiting worker might need, including trailers with beds and showers, portable restrooms, and even a laundry area. In addition, the sites are stocked with all the materials needed to make repairs to the electric system, including poles, transformers and conductor.

Under normal circumstances, FEU might have two or three of these staging areas set up for an event the size of Tropical Storm Isaias. But according to Emergency Preparedness Director John Huber, the company doubled the number of available sites to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and to help maintain social distancing for personnel.

“We established six staging sites for activities related to Tropical Storm Isaias,” said John. “Five of the sites were for restoration work, and the sixth location was for COVID-19 testing.”

John added: “During service restoration events, we try to house as many visiting workers as possible in hotel rooms. However, when you have nearly 10,000 people – including line workers, substation electricians, tree trimmers and other professionals – arriving in one area, available rooms can fill up quickly. That’s why we also set up sleep trailers at some of the staging areas.”

FEU increased the number of sleep trailers at each site and reduced the number of workers assigned to each trailer. In addition, it was required that everyone in a trailer had to work for the same company. At no time did any sleep trailer exceed 50% capacity, and the number of workers who could sleep at any one site was limited to maintain health and safety guidelines.

“We also ensured that the shower trailers, portable restrooms and other common areas were cleaned more frequently than normal,” continued John. “And, FirstEnergy stocked each staging site with masks, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer in case contractors ran out of their own supplies.”

John said he appreciated the cooperation and support of everyone involved in the Isaias response. “Setting up staging sites is challenging even under normal circumstances but adding safeguards to protect personnel against COVID-19 added an extra twist. From making meal preparations for workers to finding locations to park all the bucket trucks and other vehicles, it took coordination form a lot of FirstEnergy personnel to help ensure a successful restoration effort.”

At a staging site, new utility poles are loaded onto digger derricks to replace the hundreds of poles broken during Tropical Storm Isaias.