PSO workers remember crippling 2007 ice storm

TULSA, Okla. — In the nearly 100-year history of the Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, one winter weather event stands out.
The ice storm of 2007 caused more outages for PSO customers than ever before, or since, with the Tulsa metro area taking the biggest hit.
Power started to go out Dec. 9, 2007, and a frigid night quickly got colder.
"We find heat just snuggling up underneath a blanket and we use candles in the evening," resident Doug O'Conner said in 2007.
Power outages were widespread by Dec. 10. At one point, 78 out of every 100 PSO customers in the Tulsa area had no power for days. It's a storm that people still talk about.
"I run into people all the time. I can be in an airport somewhere else or just here in town. We'll get to talking, where do you work, I tell them PSO and they instantly talk about the ice storm," said PSO Vice President Steve Baker.
Tina Nevel, a customer operations lead at PSO, was among those taking the nonstop phone calls from people desperate to know when the lights would come back on.
"It's funny because a lot of them weren't so much concerned about daily living. They just wanted to make sure it was on for their kids for Christmas Day," Nevel said.
PSO reported that power was completely restored on Christmas Eve. The peak of the outage was Dec. 10 at 5:15 p.m. when 262,128 homes and businesses had no power. That was half of the customer base.
It took an army of 5,500 utility workers from about a dozen other states to help PSO crews get the job done.
"So in comparison, statewide we have about 800 such resources and lot of them were concentrated in Tulsa," Baker said.
After the first full day of the ice storm, PSO began de-centralizing its approach to power restoration and splitting the Tulsa metro into quadrants, then assigning field leaders to do whatever needed to get the power back.

"Remove all of the red tape and things that might slow down the process, bottlenecks, and be able to get the information that the field employees need in their hands quickly and then build a process by which it's self-perpetuating," Baker said.
The storm also prompted PSO crews to conduct major storm drills twice a year.
"We've made the decision that we're going to intentionally over-respond, over-prepare, versus a wait-and-see approach," Baker said.

The lessons learned from 2007's unforgettable ice storm -- from tree-trimming to power line maintenance to the processes  now in place to clear the way for crews to work quickly -- have PSO confident that if another storm were to happen, Tulsa is in a much better position.

"There would be less of an impact than there was in 2007," Baker said.
PSO officials said it took more than 1.4 million man-hours to recover from the storm.