The morning after a series of tornadoes leveled homes in Missouri and Kansas, killing at least 21 people, Kansas City electrical contractors prepared to restore power to area homeowners. Shawn Gifford, general manager for North Kansas City, Mo.-based Bart’s Electric Co., Inc., says his staff met Monday morning to determine a game plan for handling the emergency situation.
“We weren’t out and about last night because crews were still trying to clean up everything after the tornado,” Gifford says. “We expect to get some calls starting [Tuesday].”
The twisters were the first deadly tornadoes in Kansas City in more than 20 years. While tornado warnings are relatively frequent in the region, tornadoes rarely touch down or cause damage.
“This is new territory for us,” Gifford says. “We’re trying to decide how many people to send out. We have about 50 electricians, and we may have to take them off other jobs. I think there are still more than 1,000 people without power.”
Kansas City’s electrical contractors have prior experience dealing with natural disasters. Last February, tree limbs weighed down by ice crashed on to power lines and ripped meter housings away from homes. The ice storm left 420,000 homes without power, and many of the area electrical contractors rushed in to help local homeowners.
Tann Electric, a service company that specializes in electrical and low-voltage work for residential customers, handled more than 250 service calls in the aftermath of Kansas City’s ice storm. The contractor is now ready to help restore power to its clients after Sunday’s tornadoes. Randy Smith, vice president of operations for Tann Electric, says the twisters damaged the electrical grid in many parts of the city.
“I’m sure that in a lot of cases the grid itself is totally gone, and the poles, overhead lines, and primary power lines are significantly compromised,” he says.
Teams worked throughout the evening to shut off electrical power and natural gas to the homes in the tornado’s path. Since most of the electrical equipment was often destroyed, crews had to shut off power at the transformer or the distribution center.
“You have to go to the source to find a way to turn off the power,” he says. “When the house is totally demolished, you won’t have the opportunity to check the breaker box or main disconnect. You’ll have to go to the different power points or power stations within the electric utility system itself.”
Before restoring power to a home, it’s critical to first check the condition of the power lines. If the lines aren’t down, then the next step is to inspect the conductors from the poles to the house. Teams will have to assess each home individually since some homes received more damage than others. While some of the houses are completely destroyed, others sustained minimal damage. In those cases, the service entrances will often need to be rebuilt. As many homeowners learned in the ice storm disaster, it’s their responsibility to call an electrical contractor to install the meter housings.
“The homeowner’s responsibility is everything after the point of attachment, which includes the meter and the riser,” Smith says. “Sometimes the utility will complete a temporary repair for the convenience and safety of the homeowner, but the homeowner would need to call a licensed electrician back to complete the repairs.”
Once the utility companies restore power to the houses that are still standing, electrical contractors’ phones will most likely begin to ring. Smith says his company is ready to handle the influx of calls from homeowners.
“We have a model that we work from, and part of it was developed from the ice storm,” he says. “We can shift our resources, people, material, and trucks, to respond to our clients’ needs.”