“One team, one Michigan. One team, one mission.” Those are the words of John Wagner, general supervisor, overhead and underground line crews, and operations chief for DTE’s February 2019 mutual assistance deployment to western Michigan. Wagner and nearly 70 DTE employees – including line workers and support personnel – volunteered to leave the comfort of their homes and the company of their families to restore power to Consumers Energy customers impacted by severe storms in west Michigan last week. And in speaking with them about why they answered the call, a recurring theme emerged: it’s the right thing to do.

“This is about neighbors helping neighbors,” said Wagner. “We’re all Michiganders and we’re always there for each other. Consumers has helped us many times in the past; we’re here to lend about 140 helping hands, and to help restore power after a brutal week of winter weather. The ice- and wind- damage out here is substantial and repairing it is something we know a thing or two about. We’re happy to help in any ways we can.”

One-two punch pounds west Michigan, and the energy grid

Last week, Consumers’ electric territory was ravaged by back-to-back storms. First, west Michigan was hit with an ice storm, which coated trees, power lines and utility poles with a half-inch of ice, which is more than enough to cause catastrophic damage to the energy grid. The second punch was a windstorm that brought 45 mph gusts, which put additional strain on the grid and toppled even more tree limbs, trees, power lines and utility poles.

Answering the call

Focused on restoring its customers as safely and quickly as possible, Consumers asked other utilities, including DTE, to provide mutual assistance, just as DTE has asked Consumers and other utilities to do in the past.  Mutual assistance is a longstanding tradition of voluntary partnerships in the energy industry, and one that helps energy companies get the power back on for their customers when significant events cause heavy damage.

“Consumers is right down the expressway, so we know many of their talented professionals quite well,” said Wagner. “Our mutual assistance arrangements with Consumers are quite unique in that many of their electric customers are our natural gas customers, and many of our electric customers are their natural gas customers. Having the opportunity to help them out is special, not only because of the relationships we have with their employees, but because it allows us to help our (natural gas) customers, too.”

DTE’s new mobile command center earns its stripes

This deployment was also our first opportunity to use our newly unveiled mobile command center (MCC) in a large-scale restoration effort. Our planners, incident commanders and technical experts set up shop in Ada Township and continue to use the vehicle to promote an accurate flow of communication and data to and from the field. The MCC also makes it easier for DTE and Consumers to stay aligned and ensure safety for customers and employees, and restore power to those still affected by last week’s storm as quickly as possible. Click here to learn more about the mobile command center and how we’ll use it in the future.

How to be safe around downed power lines

Thousands of power lines were reported across western Michigan last week, creating dangerous (potentially deadly) situations across the region. Knowing what to do when you spot a downed power line – and knowing how to spot a downed power line – could save a life. Click here to learn more.