A volatile year marked by wildfires, related flooding concerns, record snow and commercial growth in and around Flagstaff highlight the commitment of UniSource natural gas employees to protect their community’s safety and economic health.
When the Pipeline, Tunnel and Haywire fires burned through more than 45,000 acres in the area last year, UniSource employees protected public safety by shutting off gas in at-risk areas and making other protective adjustments to our natural gas distribution system.
As the charred landscape, dotted with wildfire debris, increased the risk of flooding, employees worked to bolster and secure equipment to help it withstand the subsequent downpours. In addition to protecting pipeline facilities from possible floods, UniSource employees spent time on and off the clock packing sandbags for use at key gas facilities and for the public.
Then winter delivered more extreme weather, including the second-highest snowfall on record at the local airport. As melting snow hardened to ice overnight, the added weight caused structural damage across the community, collapsing roofs and requiring immediate gas shutoffs, even as construction crews had to move heavy snow to access equipment.
Five back-to-back winter storms posed significant challenges. Employees endured challenges such as safe travel in sub-zero temperatures to reaching equipment buried and frozen underneath snow and ice. The snow also closed highways and required prompt contingency planning to be able to provide response in the event of emergencies. As a result of the extreme conditions, UniSource teams from across the state provided support to other areas as needed to ensure reliability.
“The team is incredibly proficient at responding to emergencies,” said Jason Garrett, District Manager of Flagstaff Gas Operations. “It’s just what we do, even when we’re dealing with such extreme conditions. But it does take commitment, since we’re incredibly busy with day-to-day work even as we’re managing these ongoing natural emergencies.”
Some of that day-to-day work includes supporting significant growth in the area, including new homes, city improvement projects and flood control improvements. Also in the mix is ongoing maintenance of our gas system to ensure its safety and reliability year-round. “There’s a lot of work on the books and we’re really proud to be serving our community in these ways.”
Garrett credited UniSource’s effective response to solid relationships with first responders and emergency preparedness officials as well as our crews’ ongoing training.
“When it’s winter, we’re already preparing for fire season. And in fire season, we’ll be thinking about flood season. It’s about knowing what’s coming, setting up mock drills, sharing our emergency plans and keeping open lines of communication. The safety of our community is always our first priority.”