Légende de la photo: Necessity is the mother of invention. Hydro-Québec made use of an unusual technique to restore transmission line 1201 between Beauharnois generating station and Aqueduc substation in Montréal. As the towers were totally iced up and impossible to climb, line workers took a helicopter and, perched in a bucket, were set atop a tall tower so they could cut the broken, ice-covered ground wire, one end of which had fallen into the river.
From the very outset, Hydro-Québec set up 30 missions to be deployed in the affected areas. Each mission consisted of some 120 people, including a mission chief, a building supply procurement manager, about 50 soldiers, tree trimmers, line crews and a community relations officer. Disaster victims were reassured when the mission convoys showed up.
Fifteen hundred tree trimmers and line workers from 29 utilities streamed in from other provinces and even the United States to lend a hand to Hydro-Québec crews.
Quebecers really appreciated Hydro-Québec’s candor and reassuring presence throughout the crisis. On top of communications in the field through missions and daily press briefings by the Premier and Hydro-Québec’s President and CEO, disaster victims could count on the media relations team 24/7. The team used every means of communication available to them to rise to the challenge. The Hydro-Québec Web site, which was still in its infancy, actually had more visitors in January 1998 (1,250,000 clicks) than it has had in any month since. A year later, in 1999, Hydro-Québec received an award for its communications during the crisis.
Customer services extended their business hours to answer the ever-increasing number of calls. Between January 6 and 30, they received almost 750,000 calls and handled 90% of them. As time passed, disaster victims increasingly turned to the kind and understanding customer services staff. When Hydro-Québec representatives identified vulnerable people, they would try to convince them to leave their homes and passed on information about them to the appropriate groups. Their days began at eight in the morning and went on until midnight, for three whole weeks.
Mechanics played an important role throughout the month of January. They repaired the precious generators, bucket trucks and vehicles used to carry transmission and distribution line components needed to rebuild the grid.
Before work to rebuild distribution lines could start, tree trimmers had to lop branches and fell trees along almost 4,000 km of power lines.
In the early hours of the ice storm, Hydro-Québec grid operators worked nonstop to keep power flowing to people’s homes. When they lost certain transmission lines, they found other circuits to bypass them. But the relentless buildup of ice and the collapse of lines eventually got the better of them. Then when reconstruction began, they maintained system stability.
When Hydro-Québec employees who helped restore power during the ice storm of 1998 think back, their first memory is of working nonstop until they were exhausted. All the unions recognized the seriousness of the crisis and the colossal amount of labor that would be required to rebuild the grid. So collective agreements were suspended until all customers had their power back. Hydro-Québec even turned off its illuminated logo at the top of its head office on January 13 and didn’t turn it back on again until the last customer’s power was restored on February 6.
Given the urgency of the situation (900 towers destroyed), Hydro-Québec decided to put up a temporary transmission system using wooden H-frames. They were later replaced by sturdier aluminum towers. The speedy rebuilding of lines was no mean feat. A transmission line that would usually take four months to build went up in two weeks.
Before the transmission and distribution lines could be rebuilt, all the components had to be on hand. Those working on building supply procurement for the distribution system did their utmost to get the 5,973 km of cable, 30,929 poles, 167,848 insulators, 6,775 transformers, 1,168 disconnect switches and 10,002 cutouts needed to rebuild the grid.