September 12, 2023
Last March when a tornado ripped a path of destruction through Amory, Starkville Utilities crews were there the next day to help rebuild the city’s heavily damaged electrical system.
When disaster strikes, electric utilities rely on mutual assistance agreements to provide extra support for power-restoration efforts. Starkville and 10 other municipalities that responded in Amory are part of Tennessee Valley Authority’s public power network in Mississippi. Working together, they helped safely restore power in 11 days.
“Being part of the public power model means that we serve the people, and the people own the utility system,” said Edward Kemp, general manager of Starkville Utilities. “By using mutual assistance agreements, we’re also able to help other utilities in times of need, both in the TVA region and outside of it. It’s comforting to know that we’re all just a phone call away.”
Mutual assistance agreements are standard in the utility industry, especially after major outage events. Utilities participate on a volunteer basis and are reimbursed for labor and material costs in accordance with Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.
The morning after the tornado struck Amory on March 24, Starkville Utilities assembled and deployed a line crew along with a supply of materials, including transformers.
“Getting the power back in 11 days was a great feat that required the efforts of many, many people,” said Mike King, Amory’s utilities manager. “We had over 300 poles on the ground. Crews were reconductoring lines, setting new poles, stringing new wire, putting transformers up—whatever needed to be done.
“It’s a big sacrifice when folks are spending time away from their homes to help someone else, and everybody worked tremendously well together,” King said.
The tornado also damaged Amory’s water treatment plant, disrupting service to residents for several days. Restoring the plant’s electrical supply was a key step in getting the water system up and running again.
Before committing crews to mutual aid efforts, Starkville Utilities always makes sure a full complement of employees is available to support its daily operations. During restoration in Amory, Starkville Utilities was able to send a third of its electrical crew members to help.
“Crew makeup is important because you need to send experienced people who can lead,” Kemp said. “Some of our apprentice linemen also gained a lot of great experience. Seeing different utilities pitch in to help restore power was very inspiring. Everyone knew it could have been one of their communities that was hit, and they worked hard to help Amory get back on its feet.”
Starkville Utilities is a public utility serving 14,000 residences, businesses and industries in Starkville, Mississippi as well as Mississippi State University. Its mission is to supply safe, reliable, and cost-effective electric and water service of superior quality and value that improves the lives of its customers.