NO TWO POLES ARE THE SAME
As we work to repair and rebuild distribution systems damaged by severe weather, many factors go into the restoration process. Below are common items that impact restoration timelines. Keep in mind that areas with additional damage to the conductors located on poles will require additional time to repair.
Some poles are on the side of the road and easy to access with a large bucket truck. We first need to clear the area of the old pole, other equipment and wires that were previously mounted on the pole and use the truck to pull the old pole out. Then, we use an auger on the bucket truck to clean out the original hole, or sometimes dig a new one, and install the new pole. Our large bucket trucks are well equipped for these situations; however, not all pole replacements are that simple. Poles can be located:
- In a backyard where our large bucket trucks can’t access. Here, we still must clean up the area, manually pull the old pole out and use shovels to clean out the existing hole or hand dig a new hole. Then, we manually install the new pole. We have some specialized equipment to help, however this takes longer than replacing a pole on the side of the road.
- In swampy or wet areas. In this case, we need special marsh or high-water equipment to replace a pole.
- In wooded or off-road areas. In these situations, access can be hampered by fallen trees or other debris, or having to cross waterways, bayous or creeks. This also takes additional effort, time and specialized equipment, as well as a vegetation-removal team member to clear a path before we can send in line crews to replace a pole.
Installing a New pole
Once we’ve accessed the pole and have the necessary equipment ready for install, it’s not as simple as just digging a hole to get started. We need to be aware of, and work around, what’s already in the ground in order to not create additional hazards. We often set poles in areas with fiberoptic cables; gas, television cable and water lines; piping; underground electrical lines. If the pole is set in concrete, a jack hammer may be required break up the concrete to remove the pole.
This is when the real crew-size impact comes in. What goes on top of the pole depends on how that pole fits into the distribution system.
- Single customer poles, or those with a few customers, can be worked with smaller crews. The wires are often smaller and easier to handle and install. Some of these poles may only have cables that run from the pole to houses, or there might be single transformer with a few cables that run from the pole to houses.
- Larger customers, such as stores, can have multiple, larger transformers that are mounted on steel racks, with multiple cables and wires extending from the pole to the customers. There may also be underground cables in PVC pipe that extend from the pole to ground-mounted transformers. Larger and more specialized crews are often needed in this instance, with specialized equipment such as underground trenchers.
- Main distribution lines often have multiple distribution wires, cables and other equipment on top of the poles, with cross arms required to support the wires and cables. These will have lines that split off the main line and extend down neighborhood streets to subdivisions and to larger groupings of customers.
Many variables impact the time needed to repair a damaged distribution pole. Under normal circumstances, a standard residential neighborhood pole can be replaced in two to three hours if it’s located on the side of a road, or four to six hours if it’s in a more restricted access, rear-lot or alley. That is assuming the vegetation crews have already cleared the path to the pole and allowing for the line crew of four or five workers, or sometimes multiple line crews, to follow all necessary safety protocols.