MARION — As the four-year anniversary of the May 8, 2009, derecho approaches, Ameren Illinois officials remind the public to be prepared for and cautious during storms and inclement weather.

Ameren invited members of the media to visit its Southern Illinois emergency operations center and explore of one of the utility company’s five disaster recovery trailers.

“Our job is to keep the lights on and the gas flowing,” George Justice, Ameren’s Southern Illinois division director, said. “Our message has been put into practice many times in the past few years.”

With the 2009 derecho, the Harrisburg tornado last year and a bevy of thunderstorms and other smaller-scale weather emergencies, Ameren crews have been put to the test. In the four years since the derecho, though, the company has learned several lessons and improved some of its response planning, Justice said.

Ameren, which traditionally trimmed trees along utility lines every four years, has now added mid-cycle inspections on all lines, clearing branches as needed.

Weather forecasts are now being monitored closely, and if it seems that a storm has potential to cause a service outage, Ameren mobilizes teams in advance, preparing to attack the issue head on. Teams, as well as the emergency trailers, can be deployed up to a day early.

“We’re ready 24/7 to meet the challenge of storms,” Justice said.

The disaster recovery trailers are based in central Illinois and poised to be in place anywhere in the state in a matter of hours. Ameren Illinois has five trailers, and the company’s Missouri branch has six that can be brought in if needed.

These trucks contain 200 different items that could be needed to restore service on 100 poles and 400 service jobs. Some carry poles, transformers and other large items.

“We can put a whole town on,” Larry Bevington, superintendent of supply chain operations, said when asked how many customers could have power restored by the materials in each truck. “They are very significant in our operations right now.”

In the wake of a weather emergency or disaster, there are important tips for the public to remember. Justice said people should avoid downed wires or areas covered by tree limbs or brush that could be hiding downed wires. All wires should be assumed to be electrically charged and active, he said.

People also need to avoid touching any electrical items that are wet or damp and trying to turn off the power to a house if the floor is wet. With recent flooding concerns, these become especially important guidelines, Justice added.

In the event of a potential gas leak, people need to alert Ameren immediately and leave the house.

“There’s nothing more concerning than when we get to a place and a customer says, ‘We’ve been smelling this for a couple of days,”” Justice said.


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