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Dawson PPD General Manager Gwen Kautz

Gwen Kautz

General Manager

When you sign on to be a general manager of a public power district, you didn’t know you would soon become a part-time, amateur meteorologist. All general managers of utilities pay close attention to the weather — all year long.

I’ve seen storms impact the system on either side of Dawson PPD’s service territory and do minimal damage to us. The reasons vary just like two snowflakes are never alike.

Mutual aid is electric utilities helping each other in times of need. The beauty of mutual aid has several connected facets:

  1. Safety is always the top priority. Going into unfamiliar territory with parts and pieces of the system on the ground is a different experience within itself. Lineman pressure themselves and the adrenaline is high as they work to get everyone on as fast as they can. This creates potential for mishaps, so there’s a need for heightened safety awareness. Accidents can happen fast if work is rushed, and the crew is unfamiliar with the area. This is why it is important to have someone with the host system in charge of a mutual aid crew.
  2. The laws of electricity do not change no matter where you work.
  3. In rural Nebraska, NREA member-system crews work under the same safety manual. The rules are the same.
  4. Restoration processes are the same for almost all districts.
  5. For the most part, construction standards are similar.
  6. Material used is always the same but might be a different brand.
  7. Training has usually been derived from the same source.

When do we call mutual aid? The decision varies by system, but for Dawson PPD, if our assessment during the storm shows significant and widespread physical damage, we know we need help. There isn’t a set number of broken poles. The goal is to get customers back on as soon as possible. No one likes to be without electricity — especially if it’s cold.

We try to rely on systems that are contiguous to ours to keep travel time short and reduce use costs on equipment. It’s possible those districts may not respond to our request for help because the storm has harmed their system as well. If our damage is minimal, we let others know we can help if needed. There’s a mutual aid agreement between systems on how this is structured and what is expected.

How does a storm, with associated costs, affect an already set and approved budget? Well, it doesn’t. We must complete restoration work regardless of the budget. At Dawson PPD, the staff and I figure out ways to cut other budget items slated for the rest of the year. When there’s major damage across our system and others in the state, we pray for a disaster declaration from the Governor and then approximately 75 percent of those costs can be recovered through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). That’s a complicated hoop to jump through, but we do all we can to make sure we meet their criteria for reimbursement.

We’ve been exploring other opportunities for mutual aid. This year, Dawson PPD’s public relations team helped systems create social media graphics. This really helps our customers (and theirs) understand what’s going on. You know what they say — a picture is worth a thousand words. We are exploring how mutual aid could be used for information technology and cybersecurity issues, too.

If I had to sum up my thoughts on mutual aid, I’m going to steal what my operations manager says: “We’d rather give than get.” He also assures me the strategy for restoring all service to our customers is as simple as “if it falls down, we put it back up.”

If you report an outage, our linemen will be on their way. They love what they do and I’m so grateful they don’t mind working in extreme weather while many of us are home and mostly comfortable. I’m always humbled by their dedication to their craft and our customers.

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