The West Virginia American Water team set an example for teamwork and customer focus in a recent, challenging ice storm that left over 90,000 residents across four counties without power.
Ice storms on February 11 and 15 resulted in power outages affecting 72 remote pumping facilities and water storage tanks across the Huntington, Salt Rock and Lincoln County areas. The total number of customers without water service was largely unknown until Feb. 17 because SCADA visibility was compromised by the power outages and frozen telemetry antennae. Ultimately, the storm impacted water service for approximately 400 customers, a relatively small number given the 44,000 customers served across the area.
West Virginia crews and contractors worked safely and quickly to access the facilities that required repairs, and deployed generators for continuity of water service. A precautionary boil water advisory was issued for the entire service area during the first two days of the event, given the company’s inability to identify areas still in service.
“The response of our operations team in such challenging circumstances was outstanding,” said Chris Carew, vice president of operations. “They were dedicated, smart, and always made sure to work safely. It required a lot of commitment, effort, and teamwork to bring our SCADA system back, get boosters powered, and ensure sampling plans were put together, approved, and implemented.”
Carew also said the water outage could have been worse, but the power outage affected booster stations and pressure reducing valves instead of the main water treatment facility.
“With weather conditions restricting safe road access and a limited number of employees even able to leave their homes, we still covered the entirety of our 209 square mile service territory,” noted Carew. “I am very appreciative of the quick action and hard work by the team members who made this possible.”
Senior operations manager Allen Parsley, who coordinated the company’s successful response to the event, cited special contributions made by several team members:
“Production supervisor Mike Mercer and maintenance tech Tim Roe were both at the nadir of the event, and they were able to start the process of restoration right away,” Parsley said. “Mike was also the supervisor of record, getting direction from the team and putting it into action when everyone else was iced in. He even stayed at the plant for a couple of days rather than try to make his way home and not be able to get back.
“Senior production supervisor Larry Smith also played an important role,” Parsley added. “Larry coordinated all the contractors to get access to sites, and provided guidance to our plant operators when we lost visibility to our tanks through our SCADA system. Our other maintenance techs – Jeromy Roe, Matt Chandler and Harry Litteral – also made important contributions, working with Mike and Tim to safely thaw and install antennae, reposition generators, and ensure contractors continued to keep those generators fueled. The team stayed on top of our system from one end to the other, assessing damage and directing access cleanup.”
“And let’s not forget our operators,” said Parsley. “Plant swing shift operator Bill Hartke was able to determine GPS coordinates for all the booster sites that weren’t already tagged with coordinates. And all operators – Rick Wiley, Jeremy Porter, and Scott Maynard – reported to their shifts every day, even though they were going through personal hardships associated with storm damage.
Robert Burton, president of West Virginia American Water, expressed his gratitude to all of the employees that provided assistance during the storm: “My personal thank you to our entire team, for your action, teamwork and sacrifice to keep life flowing for our customers during and after this storm!”
West Virginia American Water donated water bottles and non-perishable food items to the Huntington YMCA, The Salvation Army, and the Huntington City Mission. These items will be used to support the thousands of residents in the greater Cabell and Wayne County area who are seeking warming shelters and meals due to loss of power earlier this week. The company also provided a tanker of water to the nearby community of Fort Gay.
Some of the customer feedback:
“Problem resolved and service has been restored—thank you!”
Sherri in Huntington
“Everyone on Ousley Gap is back in service! Thanks to your crews for restoring water!”
Alan in Salt Rock
“Thank you for working overnight to get our water back on!”
Kelli in Ona
“Thank you so much for responding to my message and for keeping me updated on the outages in our area! You stay safe as well.”
Dee in Barboursville