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Powering Through the Pandemic: Work doesn’t slow at control center

October 12, 2020 | Jason Kuiper | OPPD employees, T&D
MISC_COVID ECC_homepage_Scott Kuhl Neil dvorak

OPPD’s Energy Control Center (ECC) is where the utility monitors the grid 24/7 and where dispatchers send troubleshooters to calls during outages. The ECC is also where system operators keep an eye on the utility’s approximately 150 substations and generators, and where power switching is done. All of these activities allow OPPD to safely maintain power lines and other equipment with the least impact to customers.

All in the name of keeping the entire system reliable.

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused businesses to rethink their operations, OPPD enabled its own protection measures. The work didn’t change at ECC, and the power kept flowing when customers needed it more than ever.

Less people on site

Inside the ECC, the first noticeable difference is that there are fewer employees onsite. Where there were once 40 or more employees on a given day, the number is now down to about 10.

“We were fortunate in that we had remodeled the ECC last year,” said Doug Peterchuck, manager of Transmission Operations. “Our desks are spaced about 12 feet apart and we have a fully-equipped training room that people can use to spread out and keep socially distant. We can use the entire space of the building.”

Peterchuck said like other OPPD locations, they’ve implemented temperature checks before entering the building, answer COVID-related assessment questions before coming to work and wear masks everywhere except at their desks.

Extra cleaning supplies are available for daily use, and system operators and dispatchers follow a protocol that calls for wiping down and sanitizing their areas before the beginning of a shift and again when the shift ends.

Recently, local health officials warned the public to not get complacent in protecting against COVID-19. Locally, cases are on the rise and the pandemic will soon collide with the coming influenza season. OPPD has continually stressed with employees the need to continue precautionary health measures, including hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks.

“We had great buy-in right away,” Peterchuck said. “Everyone knows how important it is that we stay safe and healthy.”

August test

Peterchuck said despite about 30 employees from the ECC working from home, operations at the critical facility have remained the same.

Weather tested those changes on Aug. 10. That day, a powerful derecho storm blew across much of the Great Plains, including the OPPD service territory.

The storm caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose power and destroyed millions of acres of crops. At OPPD, 57,000 customers lost power. Within 24 hours, the utility had restored power to 88% of its customers.

Peterchuck said everyone at the ECC was able to maintain social distancing and work just as they have in the past when large-scale storm events caused widespread outages.

Ready for everything

Like other essential parts of OPPD, those at the ECC must be ready if the need would arise to shelter in place.

Peterchuck said they have a plan ready to roll out if COVID-19 would worsen around the community. ECC employees are able to shelter in place for 14 days so they can maintain normal operations inside the building.

OPPD’s Business Continuity Plan team has enacted and carried out a plan since early in the pandemic to protect the utility’s employees and ensure the reliability of the electrical system. The utility also developed plans like those at the ECC for other OPPD facilities.

“In the first weeks, we made sure we had enough food to last for two weeks but now we have changed that because we know more about what might happen if we need to shelter here,” he said. “We feel we would be able to lean on our food suppliers and receive deliveries. There is a kitchen, showers, everything we would need and we would actually bring in more staff if that need ever arose.”

Peterchuck said he and others at the ECC feel good about their plans and the work being done to help customers power through the pandemic.

“We know are customers need us now more than ever,” he said.

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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

View all posts by Jason Kuiper >

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