Safety steps activated when floodwaters rise

March 19, 2024

We appreciate all our natural gas operations employees for their dedication to making sure our customers receive safe and reliable natural gas service. In recognition of National Natural Gas Utility Workers’ Day on March 18, we wanted to share about how our natural gas employees prepare for flood emergencies.

Heavy rains and storms can result in downed power lines, but for the Gas Operations team, that kind of weather means potential flooding. Flooding waters and gas meters don’t mix. Each gas meter has an adjacent gas regulator with an open vent that can allow water to get into gas lines and appliances in a home or business. To prevent water from getting into those lines, trained technicians will turn off gas service at the meter and install a plug in the regulator vent during floods if there is a possibility of the meters being submerged.

Preparing for a flood

Gas Operations has a team of 18 employees (nine two-person crews) who are trained to take boats into flooded areas and check gas meters. Team Leader of Gas Distribution Chris Hall started as part of those crews in 2008 and now oversees the employees who respond to floods.

“I watch the river levels on the McAlpine Upper, and when the water gets to about 21 feet, I will prepare the boats, check on supplies and equipment needed, get the addresses of where to go, and coordinate the crews,” said Hall, who is affectionately known as the captain of the “Hall Navy” by crews.

The team has a list of customer addresses on or near the Ohio River who are at risk of flooding. This list also notes how high their gas meter is located on their structure. If river levels are expected to get near their listed meter level, an automated phone call goes to those customers informing them that an LG&E employee is coming to check the meter. Once there, the meter tech will assess the situation and turn off the gas to the meter and plug the regulator vent if necessary.

“Many of the homes or buildings we visit have their meters high on their structure because the area is naturally prone to flooding,” said Mark Wallace, gas field coordinator, who assists Hall in checking river levels and getting boats and crews ready. “We might have our crews check a meter several times because we want to keep our customers in service as long as we can.”

Hall and Wallace also are in constant communication with various emergency response teams and the fire department to let them know where they are working in case of emergency.

trucks with boats on trailers
The boats and trailers used for flood emergencies.

Boat training

When crews go out on the boat, they take waders, rain gear and high-visibility life jackets (Coast Guard-approved) in addition to the tools required for the job. These tools depend on the area and the type of gas meter they’ll be checking. Zach Tuttle, senior Safety and Technical Training consultant, leads yearly training sessions, which alternate between training on the boats and reviewing materials.

“During training, we take the boat out with our team and simulate what we do in an actual event,” said Tuttle. “We load and unload the boat, go through the checklists, run the motor, and set up on a dock to simulate what employees would be doing during a flood event.”

Challenges of a flood

While the crews are highly trained in flood response, there are challenges they must navigate to get the job done safely. For example, sometimes crews will need a boat to get to a meter on one street, but then need to wade to a meter on another street. When floodwaters are high, there are both visible and unseen objects in the water, creating potentially hazardous situations. In every scenario, crews must exercise extreme caution getting to the meters.

“It can be difficult to find where you are going because sometimes, we are only using the utility poles and street signs that are not submerged to guide us,” said Wallace, who has been involved on this team since 2017.

LG&E Gas Employees Floodwaters
LG&E employees checking the meters.

Turning gas service back on

A flooding event can last up to a week, like in 2018 when the river had its 10th highest crest at 35.72 feet. LG&E crews will return to residents’ homes to restore gas service only after water has receded and it is safe to access the area. If appliances have been damaged by water, customers are instructed to call a licensed plumber or HVAC contactor to ensure appliances are working. That contractor also can relight gas appliances -- customers should never do so themselves because of safety hazards.

Even though people know it’s a risk living close to the river, Hall has compassion for the people he has been helping for more than 15 years.

"I have developed good relationships with our customers on the river over the years,” said Hall. “I like the challenge of working during floods, and it’s rewarding to help those who are unfortunately dealing with a difficult flood disaster situation.”