Diagnosing Power Lines and Trees after a Storm

By Max Resnik

July 10, 2012 Updated Jul 10, 2012 at 5:45 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Indiana Michigan Power crews are back to their normal routines 10 days after a storm that caused widespread outages and damage in the Northeast Indiana area.

In all, 121,000 I&M customers lost power as a result of the June 29 storm that saw straight-lines winds approach 90 mph. Of the 121,000 customers who lost power, 78,000 were located in the Fort Wayne area. Pop-up storms on July 5 knocked out power for another 10,000 in Summit City. All customers have since had their power restored.

Now, crews from the power supplier are back on the roads doing their routine maintenance and checking not only on power lines and poles but on the trees that hug and interfere with them. David Mayne, a spokesperson with Indiana Michigan Power, says crews will perform what is called vegetation management.

“What that means is that we’re going to patrol those lines. As our linemen go about their routine, they’re going to look up at tree conditions and make sure that there’s not anything there that’s going to pose an immediate threat to the reliability of service.”

When faced with potential reliability issues, Mayne says I&M crews can utilize one of two options.

“If there’s just a branch or something that a line mechanic can take care of, they do have the equipment to do that. If it involves something that’s a little more extensive, they may call a forestry crew to take care of that.”

Mayne says I&M customers who think they might have trees that could pose a potential danger to power lines can be a great asset. He says customers with concerns are encouraged to call I&M to have crews examine areas where limbs or branches could add to future power outages.

“Any time a customer has concerns about a tree—they see that their branch is close to the power lines or a tree is growing up into the power line—they can tell us about that. They can go online at indianamichiganpower.com or they can call our customer solution center and let us know about the conditions and we’ll come out and take a look at it.”

One of the Summit City tree services involved in tree clean up and restoration is TreeMasters. Their co-owner, Jeff Ling, says homeowners should be monitoring their trees as if they were their homes. He says certified arborists are trained in checking the health and viability of trees and should be used like an architect who helps in the planning and design of a home.

“There are diagnostic procedures that we can do on specific trees to ensure that. Every so often what we have to do is actually climb the tree and inspect each crotch and then that way we can write a report that would give the exact condition of that tree.”

Ling says there are three procedures his teams use. First, a visual inspection of trees can be used to examine the body language of a tree. He says body language can determine what type of weather the tree has survived. Second, they can perform root collars at the base of trees, hit trees with rubber mallets to test echoes or climb trees to examine crotches. Finally, they can drill a probe into a tree to see how much wood is inside.

Ling says consumers wanting to purchase trees for their yards should consult experts before doing so. He advises going to city parks to find trees that appeal to consumers. From there, an expert can brought in to discuss where a tree should be planted and what the potential upkeep of that tree might be. He says that any given time, 300-400 different tree species are available on the market.

“Too many people will go out and say, “Give me a pear. Give me a Maple,” because that’s either all they know or they think that in doing so they will incur no after-care costs, and trees are never free,” says Ling.

Based on what Ling has seen, he estimates that of a possible 250,000 trees in Fort Wayne, approximately 5 percent to 10 percent were destroyed. He calls the June 29 storm a “significantly rare event.”

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