For Ergon Energy it was Severe Tropical Cyclone Larry which crossed the coast near Innisfail on Monday 20 March 2006.

Category 4 Larry rampaged across 16,500 square kilometres of Far North Queensland ripping apart buildings, tearing down power lines and causing significant damage to properties and crops in the Innisfail, Tully and Babinda areas and to a lesser extent The Tablelands and Cairns.

Some of Powerlink’s transmission network towers were leaning; one was down and out of service while Ergon’s local distribution network was severely damaged cutting power to 135,000 customers. After a massive restoration effort, all but 2,000 had power within two weeks.

Crews using equipment to clean up an Innisfail street after Cyclone Larry

Acting Chief Executive Roslyn Baker said Ergon’s restoration response was a defining moment in the company’s short history.

“TC Larry was was regarded as the most powerful cyclone to affect Queensland in almost a century. It was the first major event faced by our new organisation barely six years old and formed from the merger of six regional electricity boards.

“The event galvanised and united our staff in a response that was praised by Head of Cyclone Larry Recovery Task Force General Peter Cosgrove who said “I told the senior executive of Ergon that in my view this will be a historic moment in their corporate history1.”

“And it was. We are very proud of our staff who hit the ground running and did so much so quickly to restore power to help the overall community restoration effort.

Over 600 staff in the field and with assistance from Energex and contractors worked in hot, humid and rainy conditions to restore power. They were supported by another 1000 staff behind the scenes,” Ms Baker said.

It was a major logistical exercise to manage and coordinate the transportation of staff from across Queensland, their vehicles, food and accommodation without compromising employee and public safety and assist and support staff whose homes were destroyed or damaged. On top of that it was business as usual for the rest of our business.

While the restoration effort wasn’t without its challenges, over all it was very successful and publicly recognised she said.

“It was also a catalyst for improvement and a review of our response served as a blueprint for future events such as Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

“Our responses to the major cyclone and flood events that have impacted regional Queensland over the past few years have been acclaimed by the affected communities as well as nationally and internationally by our industry peers.

But we are not resting on our laurels and have taken a quantum leap forward in the way we engage, build resilience, direct resources and plan for crisis events.

“Now we leverage award winning technology such as Remote Observation Automated Modelling Economic Simulation (ROAMES). It gives us information for smarter direction of resources and investment into the network both before and following a natural disaster to minimise loss and improve recovery outcomes,” she said.

“This assists us to identify ways to reduce the costs of emergency management and response, which can be millions of dollars a day just for Ergon, but more importantly reduce the social impact and economic losses suffered by impacted communities.

In hindsight our staff and their response to the disaster was exceptional as recognised by General Cosgrove who said “…..I do single out Ergon which played a magnificent hand. When we tell the story of the cyclone, I believe, their names will be up there with great prominence as champions of the relief effort1.

(1) Townsville Bulletin WEEKEND extra Saturday 29 April 2006