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Local utilities keeping an eye on Oklahoma in case help is needed


WAUSAU, WI  (WSAU) -  The devastation in Oklahoma after the tornadoes has people around the country paying attention for different reasons. Average citizens wonder how they can help. Charitable groups like American Red Cross and the Salvation Army prepare to mobilize their trained disaster volunteers. Utility providers are also watching, because when the rescue and recovery phase is over, they might need help restoring electric and gas services.

Kelly Zagrzebski from Wisconsin Public Service says it really is too soon to expect a mutual aid request for Oklahoma. If help is needed, there is a fairly simple phone call to the Midwest Utility Association that gets the wheels moving. “When something like this happens, we’ll set up a conference call and all of the representatives from all of those various utilities get together, and it’s pretty simple. We need 200 linemen, who can send us some?”

Whenever our local utilities get a request for help in other parts of the country, Zagrzebski says they have to make sure and look at their own forecast before committing staff out of state. “What’s in the forecast for the weather? Are we forecasted to get some storms, tornadoes, high winds, anything like that?”

Last fall when WPS dispatched electric and gas repair crews to the east coast for Hurricane Sandy assistance, Zagrzebski says that happened well after the initial storm hit. “It was about two weeks into the restoration effort (for electric crews) and then our gas teams went out about three weeks after.”

Zagrzebski says it takes a little time after a natural disaster, because tree limbs and storm debris need to be cleared enough for utility crews to enter an affected area.