The Front Line
Service Department is there for members
On the morning of Sept. 23, SVEC Service Supervisor Craig Ragan was planning to go through the standard calls from members about blinking lights, the need to replace area lights and other routine jobs.
Then a truck driven by a member of the public hit a threephase power pole, and plans changed. Fortunately, Ragan and his team know how to roll with the punches.
“A power outage is always our first priority,” Ragan says. “Because this was a main three-phase line, the accident left about 400 people without power initially. That’s just one of the things that might happen on a daily basis. It could be people hitting poles or cutting down trees that tear lines down, and then we have to drop what we’re doing to take care of that first.”
Ragan and his team aren’t complaining, though. Adjusting to new circumstances multiple times each day is so common that it has become a routine part of the job. “We probably change the game plan four or five times, depending on whatever situation arises,” he says. “We adapt to it and do what we have to do to get the power back on.”
Nevertheless, the service team remains systematic. As new challenges come up throughout the day, they follow an established list of priorities to determine what projects to focus on: outages first, then new connections and disconnects, followed by individual member requests related to less-urgent things like blinking lights or area lights.
“We have our list of priorities and we follow those to the letter to get the job accomplished,” Ragan says.
After any major outages have been dealt with, the Service Department turns its attention to making connections for new members or disconnecting power where necessary. But the department also helps with system maintenance, such as repair and replacement of equipment.
One example is the breakers placed across the entire electrical system. These devices are designed to keep power flowing to members even after being disrupted by small animals such as squirrels. When a squirrel makes contact with a live wire, the breaker will disconnect service temporarily, giving the squirrel a chance to get off the line before service resumes.
It might be an inconvenience, but the breaker ensures it is just a short one. “If that breaker wasn’t there and the squirrel got on the line, the power would be off until we could arrive and fix it,” Ragan says. “But with the breaker, it can come back on almost instantaneously.”
SVEC tracks how many times each breaker opens and closes. When the count reaches 100, the Service Department is called to replace the breaker to ensure SVEC maintains reliable service.
Squirrels aren’t the only reason the breakers are needed. If a section of line is knocked out by something like a fallen tree, those breakers can also be
used to reroute power around the problem, restoring service for members long before a crew can be dispatched to make repairs.
“Some parts of our service area are an hour drive from the office just to get there,” Ragan says. “By rerouting electricity with the breakers, members can have their power back on much sooner.”
As important as dealing with major repairs and outages is to the cooperative, Ragan’s favorite part of the job is the chance to work with members directly.
“The way I look at it is that the Service Department is the front line for service from SVEC,” he says. “When the power goes out, we’re the first guys to see the members. We go out there quickly and provide the most reliable and courteous service we can.”
That isn’t always the easiest role to play. After all, a family whose plans have been interrupted by a power outage may not be in the best mood. But in his 30 years on the job, Ragan has learned that taking the time to explain to members what his team is doing to fix the problem can go a long way in creating positive relationships.
“We’ve found that most of the time when you explain to members what happened and what we did to restore power, they end up having a positive impression of the job we did,” he says. “You can’t make everybody happy all the time, but that’s what we strive to do. And most of the time we succeed.”
For Ragan, getting to be the one who shows up and helps members when they’re in need is what makes his job fulfilling.
“When I talk to a member who is upset or having a problem, my goal is to have made them happy by the time I leave,” he says. “That’s what we strive to do in the Service Department. We’re thankful for our members, and I personally think we have the best job in the world.”