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Mutual aid team returns from Florida

September 12, 2023 | Grant Schulte | mutual aid, public power, weather
hurricane idalia
The mutual aid team returned to Nebraska on Monday. Photo by Grant Schulte

OPPD’s mutual aid team returned home safely on Monday after a nine-day stretch of restoring power to rural residents in hurricane-battered northern Florida.

The 16-man team included four three-man line crews, along with two mechanics, a field supervisor and a safety representative.

OPPD workers spent the trip rebuilding badly damaged distribution lines to help the Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative, a utility based in Live Oak, Florida. The utility called for assistance after Hurricane Idalia ravaged the area. The district reported 25,365 customers without power at the peak of the outage.

Idalia knocked out power to roughly 556,800 electricity customers in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

While line technicians and troubleshooters worked directly to restore power, many others at OPPD played critical roles. Transportation mechanics kept OPPD’s trucks running well throughout the trip despite intense heat and heavier-than-normal loads required for the restoration.

Back at home, operations clerks, managers and many others supported the effort by handling paperwork, settling payments and working with the American Public Power Association to ensure OPPD is following the correct mutual aid protocols. OPPD has benefited from mutual aid assistance in the past as well when huge storms ripped through its service territory.

To learn more about the team’s experience in Florida, check The Wire on Monday.

OUT_Idalia Mutual Aid 2023 Sunset
Photo by Bryan Bernhards

Update, Thursday, September 7

The pace of power restoration has picked up in northern Florida, and OPPD’s crews have restored power to significantly more customers a day over the last two days. The uptick in restorations has been satisfying for them. As of about 12:30 p.m. Thursday, 2,017 customers of the Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative remained without power. As of noon Thursday, the Florida Public Service Commission reported a total of 4,188 customers still without power statewide.

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Crews continue working in areas with heavy tree damage. Photos by Bryan Bernhards
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Above left, a hand-drawn sign that reads, “Thank You, Nebraska.” Above right, some Southern hospitality in the form of boiled peanuts
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A message of thanks to all the lineworkers. Photo by Bryan Bernhard

Update, Tuesday, September 5

OPPD crews continue working in the northern part of Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative’s territory, not far from the Georgia border. Progress is slow because of the heavy damage the county suffered, and power is being restored one or two customers at a time. Many poles are still down in the service territory.

The Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative reported that with new crews arriving to help, a total storm force of 1,525 is working across its 2,100 square mile territory.

Nearly 100% of the utility’s customers lost power because of the storm. As of about 8:30 Tuesday morning, 10,282 customers were still waiting for their power to be restored.

Hurricane Idalia
An OPPD crew works to restore power in an area with heavy tree damage. Photo by Bryan Bernhards
OUT_Idalia Mutual Aid 2023, Tuesday near Live Oak composite
OPPD crews are making slow but steady progress restoring power in the northern portion of the Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative’s service territory. Photos by Bryan Bernhards
OUT_Idalia Mutual Aid 2023, Tuesday near Live Oak 1
The Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative and its customers thank OPPD employees for the help they’re providing.

Update, Monday, September 4

Four hundred additional lineworkers were set to arrive Monday to join power restoration efforts in Florida. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Hurricane Idalia severely damaged the agriculture industry in Suwannee County, where OPPD crews are working. Agriculture is the county’s chief economic engine, the paper reported; farm equipment, fences and crops were left in shambles.

“The impact here will be billions of dollars, because the infrastructure that these farmers have plus the crops they have in the ground for their livelihood — it’s all affected,” Larry Sessions, city manager of Live Oak, told the Democrat.

As of about 3:40 p.m. Monday, 13,486 Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative customers were still without power. Florida overall still had 24,814 outages as of Monday about 3 p.m., according to the Florida Public Service Commission.

OUT_Idalia Mutual Aid 2023, Monday in Live Oak composite c
OPPD crews continue working to restore power in the Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative’s service territory. The area was heavily damaged by Hurricane Idalia. Photo by Bryan Bernhards


Update, Sunday, September 3

On Sunday morning around 9:30, the Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative showed 18,704 remaining outages on its outage page. More than 90 power poles in the area still need to be replaced.

Volunteers from as far away as Texas are on hand to staff tents where crews can gather for meals.

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OPPD crews continue working to restore power north of Live Oak, Florida. Photos by Bryan Bernhards


Update, Saturday, September 2

OPPD crews continued working in Live Oak, Florida, area on Saturday. The restoration process is moving more slowly than in Tallahassee because of the extent of the damage in the Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative’s service territory.

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A crew works to replace a downed power pole. Photo by Bryan Bernhards
OUT_Idalia Mutual Aid 2023, Friday in Live Oak composite
Lineworkers can face a variety of hazards in the field. Crews first spotted the snake at right wrapped around an insulator near the top of a power pole. Photo above left by Bryan Bernhards; photo above right by Jon White


Update, Friday, September 1

OPPD’s crews working to restore power in Florida have been released by City of Tallahassee Utilities and picked up by Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative in Live Oak, Florida.

Live Oak, about 85 miles east of Tallahassee, suffered more extensive damage from Hurricane Idalia. Restoration there is expected to take noticeably longer.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported Friday morning that Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, had 604 remaining outages, down from a high of 50,355. Suwannee County, where Live Oak is located, had 20,755 outages as of Friday morning, down from a high of 25,365.

OPPD crews are working with Suwanee Valley Electric Co-Op as part of the American Public Power Association’s mutual aid agreement.

OPPD’s crews are in good spirits and staying safe. They say they’re glad to be part of this massive storm-restoration effort.

OUT_Idalia Mutual Aid 2023, Thursday in Tallahassee composite
OPPD crews spent Thursday restoring power in Tallahassee. Photos by Dave Green


OPPD crews ready to help in Florida

When Hurricane Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning near Keaton Beach, Florida, OPPD crews were on their way to Florida to help restore power.

Idalia arrived as a Category 3 hurricane. Category 3 storms produce winds 111-129 mph and can cause devastating damage.

OPPD sent four three-man crews to provide mutual aid at the request of the City of Tallahassee Utilities, a fellow public power utility.

Keaton Beach is about 75 miles southeast of Tallahassee, an area known as the Big Bend.

There is no record of a hurricane previously passing through the bay bordering the Big Bend area. The National Weather Service is calling the storm an unprecedented event for the area, according to the Associated Press.

‘When storms hit, we’ve got to work’

OPPD crews arrived in Paducah, Kentucky, on Tuesday night after leaving Nebraska that morning. OPPD has been the recipient of and provider  of mutual aid in the past. The utility is sending its normal allotment of four crews, each consisting of three linemen, along with two mechanics, a field supervisor and a safety representative.

Crew members said they received support and encouragement from the public when they stopped for fuel along the way.

They also have the support of their families and friends.

Journeyman line technician Danko Pike and his wife had a vacation with friends planned for this weekend.

Pike has been a lineworker for 26 years. His wife understood why he had to change gears to head to Florida, he said, and their friends know that last-minute schedule changes are part of the job for Pike when bad weather strikes.

“When storms hit, we’ve got to work,” he said.


OPPD’s 16 employees are prestaging, or setting up, in Troy, Alabama, so they are ready to respond as quickly as possible Thursday morning in Tallahassee. As of early Wednesday evening, about 15,000 customers were without power in the city.

By prestaging, OPPD crews are in position to start working as early as possible after the storm clears the area. Neighboring utilities cannot commit to prestaging because the storm can shift and leave their own customers without power.

The American Public Power Association (APPA) helps coordinate mutual aid requests. APPA relies on Midwestern utilities because they can position their crews nearby a storm-affected area for a quick response. There is no cost to OPPD’s customer-owners because the requesting utilities assume all associated expenses.

A typical mutual aid trip involves working single outages, as opposed to large-scale outages. That means the outside crews work isolated outages, like individual homes, one at a time. That process takes longer than restoring power on the circuit level.

Content Specialist Jason Kuiper and Brand Journalism Strategist Julie Wasson contributed to this report.

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About Grant Schulte

Grant Schulte joined OPPD as a content generalist in 2022. He is a former reporter for The Associated Press, where he covered the Nebraska Legislature, state politics and other news for a global audience. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and a proud Hawkeye. In his free time he enjoys running, reading, spending time with his wife, and all things aviation.

View all posts by Grant Schulte >

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