North Fork of the Blackfoot River

System Reliability Program


Lineworker in lift bucket works on poleOur SMART (Strategic Maintenance and Reliability Taskforce) program was developed to target the causes of short, nuisance blinks and outages. While it is not possible to prevent every outage, the SMART program is designed to prevent common causes of outages in areas which encounter periodic power loss events.

These events are often triggered by animals such as squirrels and birds or from tree limbs that contact the lines. The SMART program involves a pole to pole inspection of our entire system. During the course of this inspection, our crews will install wildlife protection, replace older porcelain cutouts and lightening arrestors. In addition, all connections are checked and tightened where needed. Areas, where trees have begun to encroach on our circuits, will be identified for clearing by or tree trimmers.

Our SMART program has been going strong since 2013 and has dramatically reduced outage minutes as well as the number of occurrences of outages. This program is ongoing on a 10-year rotation.

Questions? For more information call (406) 541-4433 or (800) 352-5200.

SMART logo

What Work We Are Conducting

  • Inspect each pole from the ground to the conductors
  • Open and inspect all underground cabinets
  • Change out cracked or broken insulators and cutouts
  • Check for loose connections
  • Repair fraying conductors
  • Install guards to prevent animal related outages
  • Install raptor protection to prevent nesting on poles
  • Trim or remove vegetation inside the right-of-way
  • Replace poles reaching their end of life
  • Install or replace lightning arrestors

The work our linemen will perform includes a comprehensive inspection of each piece of equipment such as the wires, insulators, transformers, cutouts and any connections.

When a lineman identifies an item needing attention work may be performed to fix it during the initial visit. More complex issues could require a larger crew to complete the work identified and would therefore require an additional visit.

How We Identify an Area For Attention

Each month, reports are generated showing member outage minutes for each substation on our system. The focus of the SMART Program is to target the areas with the greatest need according to these reports. If weather permits, we will stay in one area, working our way back to the substation. If weather is a factor, we will choose a stopping point and relocate to the next most critical area.

When You Can Expect to See Results

Depending on the location and nature of the work done, results may be evident the next time the wind blows. In contrast, when the primary cause of blinks and nuisance outages is located down the line, blinks may continue until the SMART team works their way to the trouble spot.

Why Tree Trimming is Part of the Program

A large percentage of our outages are due to trees. Tree branches in contact with power lines can cause line sections to go off while dead and dying trees can come down in wind storms and take out whole sections of line. Our service territory is very large which means it can take several years to reach all the areas needing attention.

By the time the system is covered from end to end, it is time to start over again. Having the cooperation of our members when it comes to allowing crews to trim or remove trees is a key to them doing their jobs effectively and efficiently.

How We Will You Notify You When We Will Be in Your Area

Typically, our SMART team is able to do their work with little or no impact to the member. If scheduled work is required, MEC will notify those members impacted and tell them what to expect.

Notification may come either by post card or phone call. Occasionally, the team will find something needing immediate attention and will notify impacted members if they are likely to experience a short outage while the work is completed.

How You Can Help

While it is not necessary for you to be present while work is conducted, there are a few things that you can do to help.

Please refrain from attaching equipment to our poles such as satellite dishes, signage or basketball hoops. These items can not only make it hard for the linemen to climb our poles, exposed nails and screws can injure our employees. If our crew encounters unauthorized attachments, they will be removed and placed near the base of the pole. In addition, if work cannot be performed due to aggressive animals, an appointment will need to be set up for a time when the animals can be restrained.