At the peak of Hurricane Irene last August, more than 800,000 homes in Maryland were without power.
A majority of BGE’s 3,400 employees, along with worked around the clock for more than a week to restore all of the power. Many customers were patient, while many others grew frustrated after living in the dark for days with no electricity.
Veteran BGE workers like Gordon Johnson understood that frustration—he has seen his fair share of hurricanes and blizzards during his 30-year career with the utility company. But he also wants customers to know that restoring power is often not as simple as patching a wire or flipping a switch.
“You’re out there in all the elements and what we’re often dealing with is dangerous conditions,” Johnson said. “It’s ingrained into all BGE workers to work quickly to get power restored, but it’s also important to follow all safety protocols to keep the workers safe.”
Just how those workers stay safe and prepare for different scenarios was on full display Wednesday at BGE’s training center in White Marsh.
The utility company offered a tour of its outside training center where safety instructors allowed members of the media (including myself and Lutherville-Timonium Patch editor Nick DiMarco) to view and even try first-hand the different stations BGE trainees practice on before going into the field. The demonstration came on the eve of hurricane season, which begins on June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
As part of the demonstration, DiMarco got to put on a harness along with 50 pounds of equipment and practiced climbing a utility pole while I got to go 50 feet in the air inside a bucket truck and practiced repairing a wire while wearing cumbersome protective gloves.
Both of us left the demonstration with a new sense of appreciation for the work done by BGE and other utility companies.
“You get really hot, really fast in this equipment and we were in a controlled environment,” DiMarco said. “This work is definitely more difficult than it looks and it doesn’t look that easy to begin with. I can’t imagine doing this in the elements with the pressure of customers waiting to have their power restored.”
Johnson, a senior utility instructor with BGE, said it takes about a year of training before a worker is fully prepared to go into the field. There are times, he said, when trainees climb the utility pole, become scared of heights and be finished.
“We try to prepare them for any possible scenario they may face, but it’s impossible to always know of everything,” Johnson said.
BGE safety supervisor Mike Laker said the training of utility workers is intensive and the training center works to ensure workers leave with the ability to work in a timely, yet safe, manner.
“Just like the police department and the fire department, our training course tries to make our trainees aware of anything that could take place during a job,” he said. “It’s important to expect the unexpected.”
BGE spokesman Linda Foy said while the point of Wednesday’s demonstration was to show the challenges utility workers face, she knows that often means little to those who have lost power.
Foy added that the utility is constantly reassessing its approach to power restoration, especially following the damage caused by record storms like
“After every major storm and every major event we have a 'lesson learned session' where we bring everyone together to discuss what went well and what we may be able to improve upon," she said. "That is an ongoing thing something even now we’re doing as it relates to Hurricane Irene.
“What the customers need to know is that we are constantly trying to improve the way we do things. Every group of employees are involved in that process."
Foy continued: "Our customers also should understand it is important for them to take proactive steps before a storm so that they have the necessary supplies and are ready themselves, because if they wait until the day before the storm, it may already be too late.”