How SA Power Networks work on the frontline in an emergency
So early in our bushfire season it has been a testing time for many across Australia already. This article reflects on the work of SA Power Networks crews in response to the devastating fires in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island.
Australia’s bushfire crisis has made demands on a wide range of emergency services, individuals, families, communities, businesses, and support agencies. Among those responding are teams from SA Power Networks.
The role of SA Power Networks can, at times, be misunderstood – with all ‘power’ companies lumped in together. But the organisation has a vital role in relation to the safe and reliable power supply both, in the lead up to catastrophic fire danger days, and in the aftermath of bushfires.
In South Australia this has particularly been true in relation to the 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.
It is expected that work in relation to Kangaroo Island – which as of today is still threatening homes and lives – could take weeks to replace damaged infrastructure.
The safe restoration of power to customers is a priority for 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, not only delaying our work, but on at least two occasions in the Adelaide Hills, forcing 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. On one occasion in the Adelaide Hills the soles of a crew member’s boots melted.
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.
Our dedicated crews deal with confronting scenes of families and farmers who have lost everything or have significant damage to their property. Also the presence of injured, burnt or dead native animals and livestock cannot be overlooked. As much as any other group of first responders, our 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 our representatives attend community meetings to keep all informed, call centre staff handle phone and online inquiries and communications staff are busy updating 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.