The US is a hotbed for extreme weather activity, with the highest incidence of tornados of any region globally. In 2013, tornados caused an estimated $3.642 billion in property damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Given these circumstances, utility companies are continually looking for solutions that enhance their ability to quickly respond. Storm ravaged customers are relying on the rapid response of their utility provider to restore power; every passing day brings with it added human and financial cost.
Technologies such as the DURA-BASE Advanced-Composite Mat System are emerging as a way to speed storm response safely and efficiently, minimizing the time needed to get the grid operational while reducing related expenses.
On April 27, 2014, a total of five tornadoes, including one with an Enhanced Fujita scale rating of 4 (EF4), tore through central Arkansas, with winds between 166-200 mph, destroying dozens of homes and businesses.
The EF4 tornado cut a half-mile wide swath of devastation from Ferndale, in western Pulaski County, 41 miles through the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia in Faulkner County, where it reached its maximum strength, ending in El Paso. With a total of 16 people killed, the late-April storm ranks as the deadliest tornado in Arkansas since 1968.
Among the extensive damage, the region's power transmission and distribution infrastructure, owned and operated by a major regional utility provider, was heavily impacted. Some 40 to 50 miles of lines were affected, with an estimated $90-120 million needed for the transmission, substation and distribution rebuild.
Dealing With the Aftermath
After the storm, the utility provider's team started repairing the damage as quickly as possible. More than 100 employees and 400 contractors were called in, working seven days a week to rebuild the electrical infrastructure.
With this extent of damage, fallen trees and debris littered the terrain, making it difficult to access the necessary areas for repair. Because of these conditions, the utility provider knew it would need a temporary access solution it could rapidly deploy to reach damaged equipment in remote or inaccessible areas, while providing the necessary stability for heavy equipment. Otherwise, trees would have to be cut down and roads would have to be constructed to get the job done, which would delay repairs.
Based on its experience from past projects, the utility company already knew of a system that would meet its needs. So, they called Shane Guins, district manager for Lafayette-based Newpark Mats & Integrated Services, manufacturer of DURA-BASE Advanced-Composite Mats.
Once he got the call, Guins and the Newpark team immediately responded and had 720 mats en route to the affected area in less than 24 hours.
"We knew that time was of the essence," Guins said. "With so many homes destroyed and thousands without power, getting the repair process moving was absolutely critical to restoring order. Once we were on site, our team was able to deploy 72,800 sq. ft. of our DURA-BASE mats in a matter of days, which got the repair crews to where they needed to be."
One reason Guins and his team were able to install the mats so quickly is that they were designed with rapid mobilization in mind. Originally developed for the soft-soil conditions found around the Gulf, the DURA-BASE matting system uses a patented interlocking design that quickly fits together-effectively distributing weight and eliminating differential movement in the most rugged terrain. This makes the system especially useful for rapidly building temporary roads to access remote or environmentally sensitive areas. The mats' ease-of-installation also allows for faster remobilization when multiple roads or platforms are needed for a project, letting users move from site-to-site.
These features have encouraged wide use of the system throughout the utility and construction sectors. DURA-BASE is a durable, field-proven system for efficiently performing line upgrades, repairing storm damage and conducting routine maintenance. Each mat's rugged non-slip, advanced-composite formulation is tested to withstand loads up to 600 pounds per square inch and supports heavy equipment, such as excavators and cranes.
In addition, the mats weigh half as much as wooden alternatives, allowing for easier transport. This reduces transportation time and minimizes overall expense. As a result, Newpark was able to transport 27 truckloads of the mats to the affected area in two days. Conversely, three times as many truckloads would have been required if conventional wooden matting was used. This ultimately saved the utility provider two-thirds of the expenditure on transportation cost and allowed them to quickly restore power to customers.
With the chaotic scene on the ground, the system's safety benefits also played a role in smooth operations. The mats contain an anti-static additive that helps dissipate electrical charges, while their interlocking design forms a continuous work surface that minimizes slips, trips and falls at the jobsite. By delivering added stability, the system also reduces the risk of heavy equipment tipping over or getting stuck. Finally, by cutting down on truck transport in and around the worksite, DURA-BASE reduces the risk of motor vehicle accidents, which are a common cause of workplace fatalities.
With the help of Newpark and DURA-BASE mats, the utility provider was able to get power restored to all customers who could receive it by May 15, 2014, a few weeks after the storm system wreaked havoc across the region.
Weathering Tomorrow's Storms
With storm activity pervasive across the US, it is critical that utility companies find new solutions for repairing damaged infrastructure and restoring power quickly, safely and efficiently. The rebuilding efforts following the April 27 tornados spawned by the supercell in Arkansas are an example of how technologies can make all the difference for the utility provider and the customers they serve.
"It's always gratifying to see our product help utility companies quickly restore power to our neighbors in need and to aid in protecting our regional infrastructure against violent storms," said Jeff Juergens, president of Newpark Mats and Integrated Services. "Our team stands ready to rapidly deploy the DURA-BASE Advanced-Composite Matting System wherever and whenever disaster strikes."