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Customer Success

STEMC overcomes challenging tornado restoration

14/ 06/ 2024


Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation (STEMC) continues to blaze a rural broadband trail. Even an F3 tornado on March 31, which created a 40-mile path of destruction through the service area, could not stop the electric cooperative from rapidly restoring its fiber broadband network. As a provider with a small staff, STEMC had to find the best ways of incorporating existing software and pivoting from construction to tornado restoration for its fiber broadband network.

The STEMC partnership with Render and Irby Utilities helped the electric cooperative recover quickly from the tornado. The provider teamed up with the two companies to support it with network planning and digital delivery. According to the three companies, the partnership enabled STEMC to achieve a 30 percent reduction in construction schedule duration, 75 percent resource savings, and cost efficiencies.

STEMC also found the Irby Utilities and Render platforms could aid its recovery efforts. “We just worked through an F3 tornado that went through the heart of our service area,” says Billy Gordon, vice president of technical operations at STEMC. “Render’s and Irby’s software played a valuable role for us in collecting information on materials and labor for federal government agencies.”

Render’s GIS-based construction and maintenance platform automates work scope creation, ensures highly productive resources, and provides visibility and insights for office and field teams.

Render and Irby Utilities continue an ongoing partnership to deliver cooperative networks across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. In addition to STEMC, they partner with Clay County Electric Cooperative Corporation, Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation, First Electric Cooperative Corporation, Tippah Electric Power Association and Woodruff Electric Cooperative Corporation.

As materials left STEMC’s warehouse, the platforms enabled the cooperative to access information on materials such as fiber and other equipment. STEMC’s fiber team also had engineering coordinators following behind the electric line workers as they restored power to homes in its region.

“We were able to create this workflow on the fly and track those materials as they were leaving the warehouse,” Gordon says. “Our experience with Render may be an ad hoc case, but we were able to leverage the technology to help us through a time of need when, as a fledgling business, we don’t have all those processes in place yet to work through an F3 tornado.”


Rapid recovery time

Five days after the tornado, STEMC electric crews restored the electricity. The following day, the STEMC fiber unit fixed its internet so that customers could access service.

“Our crews had work in hand on their iPads and were waiting on electric crews steadying poles and energizing lines,” Gordon says. “As we waited, we already had our work deployed and the tasks and work orders drafted.”

STEMC’s fiber crew finished the telecom restoration six hours after the electric repair. By comparison, a traditional telco takes more than a week to achieve service restoration. “With traditional methods, we would have been much like the traditional telcos, which were installing cable and running drops a week and a half later,” Gordon says.

Since STEMC’s broadband unit knew where the active services were, it could deploy the work for the mainline cable and deploy the drop infrastructure to locations that could receive drops. “We were running fiber drops before the electricity was restored, knowing that once electric service was restored, customers would call in and say they were ready for internet service,” Gordon says.

“It’s STEMC’s specific use case that has driven us to extend our platform into connection and maintenance activities,” says Sam Pratt, CEO of Render.

“It’s also the fact that operators and their internal and external crews are becoming familiar with the Render platform, and this is an effective way to deploy resources rapidly and to ensure the integrity of the data.”

The expanded offering enables service providers to expedite customer connections and maintain and enhance the integrity of the network asset across the entire fiber life cycle.

Easing Federal reporting

Render's technology helps operators respond more efficiently to local and federal reporting of restoration goals and timelines and notable statistics and costs because of the precise geospatial data that can be collected.

In an event such as restoring service following a tornado, STEMC can use the Render platform to inform a company management team about what is being done to restore service.

“We can let our management know what activities were completed,” Gordon says. In the case of the tornado, “We were able to use the Render platform to look at what we got done, what tasks were remaining, and what tasks were waiting on construction crews to be available.”

He adds that knowing what resources would be available “allowed us to plan better and focus on what work was ahead of us and what resources would become available next, so no one was waiting on anything.”

Federal agencies require initial estimates in the event of natural disasters. Later, they often conduct site and field visits to determine what equipment and facilities were replaced.

“We can access photos with GPS coordinates that are date and time stamped and can be sent to federal agencies,” Gordon says.

He added that although some could take advantage of the system to get funding, “We got everything documented: when it was installed, what it looked like when it was finished, and the materials associated so we could accurately predict when we would be finished.”

Focus on resilience

What’s compelling about the STEMC story is the overall can-do attitude of electric cooperatives. “Our restoration reflects the resiliency and nimbleness that electric cooperatives have in this space and the ability to do what’s best to serve our customers,” Gordon says. “We’re well known for thinking outside of the box to serve the customer.”

Joshua Collver, operations manager of technology and communications for Irby Utilities, agrees. Irby’s platform has some functions that allow providers to draw a polygon and create a label and material staging for storm responses. “With the live monitoring the power utilities possess, they can go into the platform, draw a polygon, create a label, export it, and start staging material based on what they need,” he says. “STEMC had the foresight to have materials on hand, so if a situation like this comes up, it’s not waiting for anyone to ship more fiber, poles or splice cases.”

Further, STEMC’s actions allowed it to mobilize and operationalize the broadband network quickly. “If you start putting all these tools together and mixing them with the skills and capability of what the utilities have, it creates an environment unlike anything traditional ISPs have ever seen.”

Because of the precise geospatial data that can be collected, Render's platform has helped operators respond more efficiently to local and federal reporting of restoration goals and timelines, as well as notable statistics and costs.

Organizing work with Labels

STEMC leveraged Render's technology to create labels on a per-county basis and an overall label. The larger label-generated graphics were shared with company leadership.

These labels allowed STEMC to examine storm-related tasks. Specifically, it improved its understanding of where the tornado was the most intense and where it was the least intense.

“In some places, there were some small cables that were broken,” Gordon says. “In the places where the tornado annihilated a half-mile-wide area, you can see all the associated tasks.”

Though the co-op started adopting the labels only a few months ago, they have become a vital tools for allocating workflows and materials and making reports to the federal government.

“Labels were instrumental in sorting out work and from a reimbursement standpoint,” Gordon says. “They allowed us to estimate materials on a per-county basis.”

In addition, the labels shorten the time getting reimbursements for grant-eligible areas takes. “Something that would take a day with pretty intense spreadsheet work with labels is just a click away,” Gordon says.


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