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**scroll down for Part 1: Remembering the Ice Storm and Part 2: Are We Prepared Now?**
Part 3: The Power Companies
Five years ago the power companies were fighting to get the lights back on in thousands of homes and business .
They incurred an estimated $240 million dollars in damage - $45 million of that hit was taken by Southern Public Power District.
When the ice storm hit, co-workers say it was hard to get Darrell Schmidt out of the office.
Then a maintenance supervisor and safety director, he knew what Southern Public Power's linemen were dealing with.
"The ice and you're slipping and falling, sliding," he said. "Bitter cold. I mean, finger tips get froze quickly and toes get froze."
Over night, the number of linemen ballooned from 70 to more than 500. Retired power workers were brought in to map the damage.
"A little discouraging when one came back from the Phelps County area and a township of six miles square, we had 650 poles on the ground," said Gary Hedman, president and C.E.O. of Southern Public Power District.
Assessing quickly changed to action.
"Chaotic to put it simply," said Schmidt, now Southern's purchasing manager and safety director.
"We worked initially 14 days straight, 12 to 14 hours a day. We didn't know whether it was Saturday or Sunday," said Hedman.
Through it all, there was a welcomed shock for the company. Customers weren't calling to complain, but to offer support.
"They were pulling us out of ditches, pulling us down through the fields," said Schmidt.
"We had to turn down more coffee cakes and donuts and cookies," said Hedman. "Just a lot of support from the customers. They were super and that made us work even harder."
On the 21st day, permanent power was restored to the last two communities.
"There's a sigh of relief just goes out from everyone, saying we did it," remembers Schmidt.
But he says Southern still had another six months of work ahead of them to get the grid working normally.
After replacing about 10,000 poles with stronger, heavy ones and using a new kind of conductor that will withstand ice more easily - the company has gotten a head start on an upgrade that could have taken decades.
"Our system should withstand in those locations that we had to rebuild, should stay up longer and better than they ever did," said Schmidt. "But remember, that's only one third of our district that was down completely. The other two thirds is still the old stuff that was out there and if Mother Nature hit those spots it could tear right down."
"Here we are five years later and our system is much stronger than it was then," said Hedman. "The money that we'll have to spend going forward on plant facilities is less because we had that Herculean effort."
Part 2: Are We Prepared Now?
The Phelps County Emergency Manager says that five years ago when the ice storm hit they did have Local Emergency Operations Plans in place, so the day after the storm they were able to get started right away with things like setting up shelters. But not everything went as smoothly as it could have.
"The whole time we're looking at the life safety side of things, making sure the people were okay," said Pat Gerdes. "We knew we had issues with power, we knew the infrastructure was damaged."
But people were in the dark - not only because there was no power, but because they had no way of finding out what was going on. Gerdes says one of the biggest issues they faced in the aftermath of the ice storm was lack of communication.
With power, phone lines, and radio towers down it was difficult to let citizens know what was being done to restore power. That's when officials say the local postmaster stepped up.
"He said just give me what you want people to know, I'll give it to my carriers, and they'll drop it off at everybody's houses," said Bob Rager, Holdrege City Administrator. "That's how we got kind of our communication out to the citizens what was going on."
Since then officials say they've set up a back up dispatch center, a better network of amateur radio operators, and a high speed notification system.
"Communication was probably one of our biggest downfalls to the whole thing, and hopefully if it happens again, we've got a better grasp on it, and we'll get the word out," said Gerdes.
Phelps Memorial Health Center's maintenance supervisor says they're still relying on their one emergency generator, but with new additions to the hospital, they're planning to install another.
"You just don't realize all the little things that need power that are not hooked up to the emergency generator that you rely on daily," said Carl Jacobsen.
But the lights have been back on in Phelps County for five years now, and Gerdes says some people have become complacent about preparedness.
"There's still places for improvement, but we've come a long ways in the five years with being able to get some of this stuff in place," he said.
Gerdes says the area was short on Red Cross volunteers during the ice storm, and they're still short now. He says they've started a Community Emergency Response Team, and he hopes more people will become volunteers or at least learn how they can be prepared in case of another disaster.
Friday on NCN we'll continue our series with a look at how power companies dealt with the ice storm and how they would handle another one.
Part 1: Remembering the Ice Storm:
Emergency management officials say the ice storm that began during the last few days of 2006 was one of the costliest disasters in Nebraska history.
People 10/11 and NCN spoke with in Phelps County, where the damages added up to more than $6 million, say they just hope they never go through it again.
"I had made a call to the National Weather Service and they said they thought we could see another 1/4 to 1/8" throughout the night," said Phelps County Emergency Manager Pat Gerdes as he recalled the events of December 29, 2006.
Gerdes says the ice storm lingered longer than expected, and by the time the freezing rain stopped falling, everything was coated in more than three inches of ice. Power lines and poles snapped, and soon all of the county was in the dark.
"Pitch black out and I'm driving around - you can't see a thing, and all you can hear are tree limbs busting off the trees and landing in the street or on houses," said Holdrege City Administrator Bob Rager, who worked closely with Gerdes as the set up an Emergency Operation Center.
"At that point we started basically rolling out our operations plan, contacted the American Red Cross to get things rolling as far as sheltering because we knew we were going to have some people needing shelter," said Gerdes.
The damage spread over multiple counties, and Gerdes says power companies told him they could be 90 days without permanent power.
Employees at Phelps Memorial Health Center say they started their emergency generator, and people who couldn't stay in their heat-less homes came to sleep in the hospital's lobbies.
"The ingenuity is there, you know, you just make do with what you have and proceed on," said Tami Mues, Environmental Services Supervisor at PMHC. "Life doesn't stop just because we didn't have power, we had people depending on us."
Federal and state emergency resources started coming after a few days, including truck sized generators to create more temporary power. Until then, places like the hospital had to rely on what they already had in place.
"[The emergency generator] only runs just a portion of the things that go in the hospital," said Carl Jacobsen, PMHC's Maintenance Supervisor. "We were on that for about 7 days before they brought in the big FEMA generator to where we could do the whole hospital."
Officials say it wasn't long before the hum of generators replaced the silence that had blanketed the area after the storm. With power crews working around the clock many communities had electricity again after about two weeks, but some like the town of Funk were on temporary power for almost a month.
"The thing that I'm most thankful about is no one was hurt, there were no injuries, no deaths, nothing," said Rager. "People just pulled together and we made it, and I hope it never happens again."
Officials say there are countless examples from that ice storm of neighbors helping neighbors and communities banding together. There were also a few lighthearted moments like when someone's home would get power and all their Christmas lights would still be switched on.
Tune into Nebraska Central News on Thursday for Part 2 of our look back at the ice storm.