ATLANTA — On a clear, sunny day across Georgia, the two dozen desks in the Storm Center at the state’s largest electrical utility stand empty with labels like “logistics,” “forestry,” “fleet,” and “security.” A giant map projected on a wall-size screen has only green symbols indicating all systems are functioning.
This same room on the second floor of Georgia Power’s Atlanta headquarters can quickly come alive as one of the region’s largest corporations shakes off the methodical pace of routine operations to spring into action in response to downed power lines caused by Mother Nature.
Thursday, the company welcomed journalists for a tour. Just a few weeks earlier, it was humming as it dispatched crews across the state to deal with the strain of record heat followed by days of violent thunderstorms. Any day in the weeks ahead, hurricane season could place it back on alert.
Even on Thursday, the overhead display reported that 2,200 customers were in the dark due to an outage at a single junction. The display also keeps score on how close crews come to the goal of restoring power in 228 minutes or less.
Down the hall, through another layer of security beyond the guards at the headquarters entrance, is the transmission control room where another dozen engineers, with six computer screens each, monitor the daily functioning of the millions of miles of wires crisscrossing the state.
As large as Georgia Power is and as well-equipped as the engineers may be, they can’t change the weather.
“Largely, we work in a reactive world here,” said John Clark, system security manager.
From the Storm Center and two mobile command centers, the engineers interpret damage assessments from crews in the field and prioritize repairs in order of safety, critical services like hospitals, and major transmission lines. Even restoring electricity to a grocery store or gas station may come before lighting individual homes.
“If I can get the supermarket open and you can get food, thousands of your neighbors can get food,” said Aaron Strickland, lead storm center manager.
Actual repairs are done in the field, leaving the core of the Storm Center’s contribution to communication and supplies. Since crews working 18-hour days in the rush to recover from a storm are often away from home, the Storm Center facilitates feeding, housing and even laundry services for them.
“Anything that meets the needs of these men and ladies is what we will do,” said Steve Lewis, logistics manager.