Lessons learned from Hugo used during ice storm

CHARLESTON, S.C (WCIV) -- It was 25 years ago, but the memories of Hurricane Hugo are still fresh in Eddie McKnight's mind.

"It kind of devastated your whole mind and body and heart and plus the physical stuff you had to do," said McKnight, the vice president and public relations official with Berkeley Electric Cooperative.

And there was plenty of work to be done after the storm.

"It was the first time in Berkeley Co-Op's history that 100 percent of our meters were not turning; 100 percent of our members at that time were out of power," said McKnight. "It was about a three-week process, and of course with having all the power out, we immediately went into a storm mode of trying to get people from other areas that came in. We had probably about 100 linemen that work here and we ended up with 1,000 total bodies that came from other states and areas to help restore power."

And there were lessons learned even weeks after the Category 4 hurricane made landfall in the Lowcountry.

"You go through things and you learn from it and you get better prepared," said McKnight. "We have a lot more consumers that have their own generator systems and such now, just for that reason and especially along coastal areas that are prone to hurricanes but I guess we have had 25 years of good luck."

But while we haven't had to deal with a major hurricane, Mother Nature packed a different punch earlier this year in the form of ice.

"What we know is that an ice storm is so much more damaging than a hurricane. We are seeing what ice damage looks like. It has absolutely changed the landscape of this community," said Gov. Nikki Haley. "To see the devastation and this is so much worse than Hugo and I never thought that was something we would experience with an ice storm."

Mc Knight, who has been with Berkeley Electric for more than 30 years, says both storms had major impacts on the Lowcountry.

"There were some areas inland of Berkeley County -- Cross, St. Stephen, Pineville and that area -- that looked a lot like Hurricane Hugo because the ice damage was so heavy on some of the trees up in that area but as far as comparing it to Hugo other than some small areas, no Hugo was pretty devastating," said McKnight.

But the lessons learned from Hugo definitely came in handy during this winter's brutal ice storm.

"We have had an emergency storm plan that gets revised and revised as things change and you get better at it, so our operations folks and everybody else back at the office that has to do their dutiesthere is a plan to detail it," said McKnight.

And part of that plan includes making sure that Berkeley Electric never loses power.

"Every facility that we have now has a generator back-up so we can keep operating because think about it, we didn't have power either so then phone systems are down and your dispatch has trouble. So we have learned those kinds of things, to have a generator back-up on every one of our facilities so at least we can keep functioning," said McKnight.

Because their goal during and after every storm is to keep the lights on for their customers.

"Anytime you have folks out of power over just a little while, we are all very spoiled because we have just not had that kind of damage in a long time so you have to get your plan of action and get going and the Co-Op network nationally we all help each other if there is a storm," said McKnight.