July 22, 2022
The swift action of the Hubbell Emergency Action Team (HEAT) and Hubbell’s distribution partner, Wesco, made a difference for the people of southern Canada after they were hit by the sixth most costly storm in Canada’s history.
Hubbell Power System’s HEAT and Wesco move quickly to get the lights back on after derecho
Late in May this year, Ontario and Quebec were hit by a holiday weekend storm that caused $875 million in damage. The sixth most costly storm in Canada’s history was a derecho, a massive windstorm. It left over 1 million people without power and 11 dead. Three counties were declared disaster areas. Hubbell moved quickly with their distribution partner Wesco to restore the power grid.
What is a Derecho?
Many across North America are familiar with tornadoes or hurricanes. Those spinning sources of calamity regularly cause swaths of damage across the plains, the Midwest, and the South. This type of storm is often caused by a supercell thunderhead with a rotating updraft. Because it revolves as it moves, a location can be hit twice.
A derecho (pronounced deh-REY-cho) is different. It is a wide, fast-moving thunderstorm with straight winds. It can reach 100 miles wide. The high winds and heavy rain are worst along the front line of the storm. It can harm homes and buildings like a tornado. However, a derecho is long-lived, so the path of destruction can go hundreds of miles.
Derecho Causes Damage & Widespread Power Outages throughout Canada
People across Canada were preparing to enjoy the long Victoria Day holiday weekend when a heat dome over the eastern United States forced a storm south of Chicago to shift north. The storm was fed by the heat and moisture, allowing it to gain speed. It was the first storm of this magnitude in Canada since the 1990s.
Reports of damage began Saturday morning, May 21, 2022, in the Windsor, Ontario area, just east of Detroit, Michigan. It quickly continued east, reaching Ottawa over 750 km (465 miles) away about 4pm, and on to Montreal. By evening it passed Quebec City and moved on into Maine.
Southern Ontario and southwest Quebec rely on electrical power from three utilities: Hydro One and Hydro Ottawa, and Hydro-Quebec. This is the most populated area of Canada. In one day, over 1 million people were left without electricity. Overall, almost 3,000 utility poles were brought down. Hydro-Quebec reported that 90% of the damage leading to outages was caused by flying vegetation impacting distribution equipment.
Hubbell Emergency Action Team (HEAT) Jumps into Action
The response began immediately. Hydro One had an executive level task force complete their first damage assessment the very next day, on Sunday, May 22. As utility crews identified downed poles, transformers and other equipment, the needs were relayed to Wesco. Hubbell’s HEAT received the first order from them that evening.
Hubbell Power Systems plants started manufacturing critical components within hours. Orders began shipping within 24 hours after they received them. Wesco turned the product around as fast as possible, rushing them out to the distribution utilities across the impacted area.
Hubbell Power Systems created the Hubbell Emergency Action Team (HEAT) specifically to assist in dealing with weather emergencies like the derecho, according to VP of Customer Service John Menne. Nine dedicated members provide 24/7 supplemental storm and disaster support to Hubbell’s normal customer service departments. This helps them get materials to affected areas as quickly as possible. The team also monitors weather, providing weekly updates so the business units, sales, customer service, and logistics can prepare for possible weather events.
As part of the HEAT strategy, each HPS factory maintains a firewalled storm stock of high running SKUs. This helps Hubbell ship quickly in an emergency like this. Theirfactories in Aiken, South Carolina, Leeds, Alabama, Centralia, Missouri and Juarez, Mexico moved as quickly as the storm to kit and ship the needed equipment.
Hubbell Power Systems’ Regional VP for Canada Chris Mealin lives in one of the hardest hit areas of the storm, where a state of emergency was declared. He contacted Menne directly to initiate the weekend support. As soon as general phone service was restored, the HEAT team made the first calls.
With much of the damaged equipment mounted on poles, there was a great need for line post insulators. Almost 30,000 were ordered. Other equipment needs included thousands of connectors (automatic splices) and distribution class arresters, along with brackets and other hardware products.
This was the first time the HEAT team dealt with a storm in Ontario. That added a level of complexity since the deliveries still had to go through normal export and import procedures. Even with the customs delay, orders were received in just a day and a half after leaving the plant.
Hubbell’s fast response to support the crews working in the field to restore power had a psychological impact as well, producing goodwill.
Menne said “It ran just like it should. Everyone was highly involved—sales, customer service, Wesco, and the customer. We got the lights back on, which is the most important thing.”
All told, there were 29 orders filled and sent to the area with a combined value over $3.6 million. By the following Sunday, May 29, Hydro Ottawa had restored power to 94% of their customers. Hydro-Quebec was able to turn the lights back on for a similar percentage of their users.
Hubbell’s fast response ultimately aided residents, but it directly supported all the linemen working 12-14 hour shifts in the field to replace poles, install new equipment, and restore power. Mealin comments “During that period, I saw contractors and utilities converge from a number of provinces and states.”
Working with Hubbell’s Distribution Partner and Utility Teams
Hubbell started planning their response immediately with Wesco. Intense phone contact between Wesco and the Hubbell team began on Sunday. For seven days, there were at least 8-12 calls a day at all hours between account managers, supply chain managers and national sales managers. Additionally, hourly emails flowed between assigned team leads and Wesco staff. The utilities worked with the distributor and directly with Hubbell.
Both Wesco and Hubbell communicated with the utilities and repair crews in Ontario. Collaboration between the distributor and the manufacturer was clear and transparent to their customers. Having their messaging aligned was a key element of success in this effort.
Mealin comments “This tragic weather event impacted communities and families across Ontario. I saw some of worst effects that afternoon. With an impact path of over 1000 kms, thousands of poles down, and over a million people without power, our customers needed full supply chain resources. Together with Wesco’s emergency team, Hubbell’s HEAT and local personnel lead a tremendous response. The sense of urgency we demonstrated sets the benchmark for our industry. Wesco and Hubbell created value by leading the supply chain efforts to get the power back on.”
Hydro One, especially, expressed appreciation to Hubbell for the support effort. Director of Strategic Sourcing Richard Clark said “As a provider of electricity to Ontario, having reliable and responsive partners is critical to our success. Our crews worked around the clock with the help of Hubbell materials supplied by Wesco, to bring power back to the people of Ontario. They enabled our crews to focus on safely completing their storm recovery work. Thank you for jumping into action when Ontarians needed you the most.“
Bryan Jackson, account manager for Hydro Ottawa said “I’m telling the story of how you responded. No one else did that.”
Wesco was impressed by the support from HEAT. Mike Barron, Wesco’s Vice President and General Manager for the Canadian Utility business, spoke positively about Hubbell at national meetings afterwards, how Hubbell’s storm response was critical to his business. The partnership they displayed was a shining example of how to react to a disaster. The result of this effort will be greater opportunity for their two businesses together.
The swift action of Hubbell and Wesco working together made a difference for the people of southern Canada, particularly in Ontario. Recovering from such a large storm can take a long time. It would have been longer this time, if not for their dedicated Hubbell team. “This makes you realize how vital Hubbell is to our industry. The HEAT team was just unreal!” comments Mealin.
Dealing with this storm successfully is also timely with the arrival of hurricane season. Customers across North America are showing a high level of interest in Hubbell’s disaster preparedness.