Serving During the Storm

Posted: February 1, 2022

By Sheena Marrs

AVEC partners with telephone provider to restore service 

Bad weather, COVID-19 related shortages and the impending holidays all conspired to make a difficult job harder for Alaska’s rural utilities towards the end of 2021. Thankfully with collaboration and a little thinking out of the box, service was restored to both phone and electric customers along the Yukon River.

While it is not uncommon for telephone and electric providers to share utility poles, few consumers distinguish the difference and expect the two services to work simultaneously.

AVEC routinely coordinates with other service providers to replace poles or disconnect power to allow for repairs, but on most days the power company and the phone company work on their own facilities separately. To make matters more confusing, sometimes the power company owns a communication line or a phone company owns a power line. No matter the circumstance, everyday AVEC’s team of dedicated employees are working hard to ensure the needs of our members are met.

Utilities serving rural Alaska communities are faced with the timely challenge of getting crews onsite to make repairs when the unexpected happens. Weather and COVID wreaked havoc on flights causing delays and cancellations all across the state this holiday season, leaving AVEC linemen stranded and unable to travel to where they were needed. The same high winds and freezing rains that were cancelling flights were also damaging power and phone lines across the state.

On December 19, Dave Johnson, AVEC’s Line Superintendent, received a call about a possible outage affecting Marshall. A UUI representative reported that there was no power to the 200-foot microwave tower that provides cell signal to Marshall and surrounding areas. An AVEC technician in Marshall discovered a blown fuse caused by a downed wire on UUI’s 5-mile power line feeding the tower.

For several days at that point AVEC had linemen on weather-hold with standby flight reservations trying to get to their next destination. With storms occurring and more excepted, Dave was eager to get his crews on the move again. He learned that UUI had a chartered flight leaving Nome to transport technicians to work on the Marshall tower that was able to transport a few AVEC linemen. Dave proposed an idea he believed would be a win-win.

The two companies agreed more could be accomplished to serve their customers by tapping into each other’s resources. UUI had travel means, while AVEC had linemen available.

By thinking out of the box and working together, AVEC’s line crew repaired UUI’s broken line and replaced the fuse within hours.

Consumers in Marshall benefited from this arrangement, and the chartered flight went on to make scheduled stops in multiple AVEC communities, allowing line crews to perform routine maintenance and restore power caused by storms.