City stepped up when ice storm hit
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Sunday, December 07, 2008
12/07/12 at 1:09 PM
With thousands of Tulsa residences unable to have electricity restored following last year's crippling ice storm, the city stepped in with a program that has since been replicated elsewhere.
Mayor Kathy Taylor's "Operation Power Up!" was designed to help homeowners who had weatherhead damage or debris on power lines that prevented them from being returned to service.
The weatherhead is the weatherproofed conduit where above-ground electrical wiring enters a house.
"Utility crews were working round-the-clock to get everyone's lives back to normal," Taylor said. "But we recognized that the city had to take action or some people were going to be left behind."
The city set up a hot line to take calls from residents who needed help.
Volunteers and firefighters also canvassed the city assessing damage, cleaning up around power lines and making contact with residents.
A centralized station was established at Expo Square, where contractors could gather supplies and permits needed and pick up work orders.
The electricians were paid $500 per home by the city to fix damaged meters. City officials made the expense part of the reimbursement it filed for with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
By the time the job was done, Operation Power Up! brought electrical service back to 2,844 homes — more than half of the 4,762 homes for which storm-related repair permits were issued.
The balance of the residences were able to schedule work to be done privately.
Jack Page, the city's director of development services, implemented the operation and said it now serves as a model for other municipalities. It was used in the aftermath of a Cleveland, Ohio, ice storm earlier this year.
"If this hadn't been done, there would have been a lot of chaos," he said, "and I think there probably would have been some injuries or loss of life from people trying to do this work themselves."
It also kept people from paying for repairs out of their own pockets, Page said.
"People were already struggling with a lot of unexpected expenses from the ice storm to have to take this on, as well," he said.
Taylor said the city also wanted to protect residents from the potential for price-gouging.
"We didn't want situations where the people who could pay exorbitant amounts of money were taken care of first," she said. "We didn't want people to profit from someone else's disaster."
Taylor said if residents had been left to fend for themselves, it would have taken months for some to come up with the repair money and schedule the work.
"The city couldn't turn a blind eye to that," she said.
Brian Barber 581-8322
Volunteer Melissa Chenault ties yellow tape to the porch to notify utility crews of electrical line damage as Tulsa firefighter Josh Rutledge leaves a notice at a home in east Tulsa on Dec. 16, 2007. They were among the city workers and volunteers who went house-to-house, identifying homes in need as part of the mayor's "Operation Power Up!" program. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World file