After the catastrophic fires of Friday 20 December and Friday 3 January – the largest of which have been at Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island – the safe restoration of power to customers is now a priority for electricity distributor SA Power Networks.
Safety takes many forms. Initial access to firegrounds to inspect the damage to assets and infrastructure can only proceed after permission from the Country Fire Service.
Once access is granted, crews are aware that flare-ups still occur within these settings. This not only delays work but, as seen on at least two occasions in the Adelaide Hills, forces the evacuation of crews.
Hot spots and still-burning/smouldering trees pose additional risk to workers – who at times have downed tools in order to extinguish flames. The potential for trees, or significant limbs, to fall is also an ongoing risk, with specialist teams deployed in a bid to identify and remove at-risk trees (in conjunction with other agencies).
SA Power Networks sits side-by-side with emergency services in the Zone Emergency Support Team (ZEST) which is responsible for the coordination of local resources, including helping critical infrastructure get back online as soon as safe to do so.
Crews begin each day with a safety briefing, highlighting issues from the previous day, ongoing risks or any new matters that have arisen. They are reminded of the need to drive with care, to consider their own safety, take breaks, drink enough water and to reflect on key issues such as fatigue management.
While on the ground to perform a vital role in restoring power, the teams that assess, plan and then physically fix or replace the Stobie poles, wires, transformers and other assets, are also exposed to the destruction, smoke, ash and tragedy that is all around them.
SA Power’s dedicated crews deal with confronting scenes of families and farmers who have lost everything or have significant damage to their property. The presence of injured, burnt or dead native animals and livestock also cannot be overlooked. As much as any other group of first responders, teams on the ground witness things that can never be unseen.
Among the crisis response provided by SA Power Networks is chaplaincy and care support to help employees manage this stress.
Meanwhile, SA Power representatives attend community meetings to keep all informed, call centre staff handle phone and online inquiries, and communications staff update social media platforms. All are working together in a bid to ensure timely, factual information and service on the path to recovery.
On Kangaroo Island, additional crews are travelling from the mainland, leaving behind their own families. At Cudlee Creek, many workers from across the organisation volunteered to work on Christmas Day and over the holiday period to help with the reconnection process for those affected.
SA Power Networks is proud to work side-by-side with all emergency services with the focus on restoring power to communities and businesses as quickly as it is safe to do so.