Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency director Jamie Miller told the commission’s Public Safety Committee (PSC) last week that single digit temperatures over Christmas weekend created a life threatening environment.
On Dec. 23-24 the Tennessee Valley Authority ordered its electricity providers to implement one hour rolling blackouts across its seven state region to offset an increased demand and prevent a total system shutdown.
“The rolling blackouts during that time is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced as a first responder,” Miller said. “It’s unlike anything Holston Electric would have imagined we’d ever experience as well. When you’re cutting people’s power off and it’s one degree outside, that’s a life threatening environment, especially when you’re throwing power back and you’re surging heat pumps. That was the most worried I’ve ever been about losing a large number of citizens in the county.”
Miller added, “Obviously the first thing that came to my mind was, where do we shelter this many people, and do we have a backup heat source. I wasn’t able to identify one at all throughout the county.”
Miller explained that the Tennessee Valley Authority has different levels of electricity use curtailment during shortages including industry only; followed by residential, which was the level that occurred in Hawkins County.
They were only one level away from TVA shutting off entire power companies such as Holston Electric, Miller noted.
The electricity curtailment plan is designed for summer when air conditioner use during the hottest times can create electricity shortages.
“Disconnecting customers for an extended period during this was not an option,” Miller said. “This is why they had smaller amounts of time as far as blackout.”
Highlights of the Freeze Response
There was one house fire which resulted in the homeowner being displaced, and first responders coordinated with the Red Cross to get him into a shelter.
Several schools received significant damage across the county due to waterline freezing and breaks. Firefighters responded to shut off water to prevent further damage.
County Mayor Mark DeWitte coordinated with some groups who opened up a warming center at East Rogersville Baptist Church. Various groups contributed supplies, and the EMA contributed some cots.
The TVA had a water shortage at a power plant in Knoxville and was “a couple of hours” away from losing the ability produce electricity, Miller told the PSC.
“They were requesting a million gallons of water every 24 hours, and that would be a stretch for us to supply,” Miller said. “We were moving resources in order to be able to supply that and came up with a plan on how we could keep that water being fulfilled. Luckily they were able to get their pumps warmed back up and restarted while we were there, and cancel that (water request).”
Miller added, “Without a doubt if we’d had to continue that, plus a freeze response, we would have had to activate our EOC (Emergency Operations Center). There’s some needs I’ve identified that we could probably enhance there if that scenario ever comes about again.”
Miller reported that he met with the Red Cross, which doesn’t provide shelter services prior to a disaster, because they don’t want to move people into the path of a storm if they can’t predict where it’s going to hit.
The Red Cross did, however, assist Hawkins County with supplies for the warming station over the Christmas weekend freeze response.
During his meeting with the Red Cross Miller said he came away with a statistic that was “mind blowing”.
“Every 21 days in the United States last year (on average) there was a billion dollar disaster,” Miller said. “One day that will knock on our door. Several of those large disasters were inside the state of Tennessee, especially Middle Tennessee.”