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How a CT Company is Training Workers to Deal with the Extreme Heights and Weather for Wind Farms​

Wind turbine 19 miles off coast
wind turbine
South Fork Wind Farm
substation 19 miles off block island
wind turbine
wind turbine

The South Fork Wind Farm located about 19 miles off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Developers offered a first look at the project to a delegation of their own employees, local and state officials, environmental activists, and journalists aboard a high-speed ferry that departed from New London. Dave Zajac/Hearst Connecticut Media​

People view wind turbines at the South Fork Wind Farm located about 19 miles off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Developers offered a first look at the project to a delegation of their own employees, local and state officials, environmental activists, and journalists aboard a high-speed ferry that departed from New London. Dave Zajac/Hearst Connecticut Media​

The substation at the South Fork Wind Farm located about 19 miles off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Developers offered a first look at the project to a delegation of their own employees, local and state officials, environmental activists, and journalists aboard a high-speed ferry that departed from New London. Dave Zajac/Hearst Connecticut Media​

A nacelle the size of a house sits atop a wind turbine at the South Fork Wind Farm located about 19 miles off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, Tuesday, May 14, 2024.

Dave Zajac/Hearst Connecticut Media

People view a wind turbine at the South Fork Wind Farm located about 19 miles off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Developers offered a first look at the project to a delegation of their own employees, local and state officials, environmental activists, and journalists aboard a high-speed ferry that departed from New London. Dave Zajac/Hearst Connecticut Media

Mark Oefinger, from the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, photographs a wind turbine at the South Fork Wind Farm located about 19 miles off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Developers offered a first look at the project to a delegation of their own employees, local and state officials, environmental activists, and journalists aboard a high-speed ferry that departed from New London. Dave Zajac/Hearst Connecticut Media​

By Alexander Soule, Staff Writer

 

June 29, 2024

 

Less than 25 feet tall, the metal Erector Set-like staging platform in Groton does not appear a particularly daunting climb, save for perhaps anyone with the most extreme fear of heights. But imagine being above the cold North Atlantic waves, peering up hundreds of feet to the top of an offshore wind turbine — your destination — and quaky knees can be expected for at least the first few forays.

 

That's where Survival Systems USA comes into play, training workers on safe practices for scaling massive, offshore wind towers and working at great heights often in rough weather — and getting back to shore safely when the work is done.

 

Survival Systems USA recently marked its 25th anniversary in Groton, where under CEO Maria Hanna it now offers climbing-safety and ocean survival training for workers who are building and maintaining offshore wind farm turbines. Those classes are a newer addition to its existing programs for pilots and emergency responders on how to conduct rescues or escape from submerged aircraft and vehicles.

 

In these situations, it's good to have a healthy respect for a situation that can easily cause panic.

 

"We've always been really good at taking that fear factor away and just getting people to recognize that it's OK to be scared, as long as you can still perform," Hanna said on Friday during a tour of the facility. "We don't take away the scary part — we just make it approachable and we help them work through whatever their particular challenges are."

 

 With Orsted now constructing the Revolution Wind farm that will eventually supply electricity to Connecticut and Rhode Island, New London's State Pier is seeing barges positioned dockside for pole sections, turbine blades and the nacelles that will sit at the top of the towers and serve as hubs. Depending on wave heights below, those hubs are typically anywhere from 400 to 500 feet above the surface of the sea, with the turbine blades extending out about another 350 feet, according to filings with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

 

"As you go over the Gold Star Bridge and see the staggering size of the towers and trying just to absorb all that, you forget that there are other, basic things that have to be done — people need to be able to climb up and climb down," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Vernon, speaking Friday in Groton on Hanna's decision to offer the training. "She obviously understood instantly that was something that just screams out for training and systems that are safe, in terms of the people that are going to be coming into this region to be part of a growing sector."

 

Survival Systems has its training tower in a newly built structure across from the Groton-New London Airport, adjacent to its original pool facility where instructors teach how to escape underwater vehicles and other safety training for people who work on — or over — the ocean.

 

The company offers more than a dozen modules for wind industry workers that cover everything from safety equipment and practices, to emergency situations including fires, first aid, evacuation from heights, and survival in the sea.

 

About 1,500 people so far have taken the aerial training courses at Survival Systems since the safety training for offshore wind turbine work started, in partnership with ENSA North America based in Wisconsin. The Global Wind Organization oversees safety standards and curricula for the training at the Groton program and other entities, such as GWO-certified ENSA, Survival Systems, or the Community College of Rhode Island.

 

The Groton company is adding more training as the industry develops new systems, such as the "Get Up Safe" hoist system sold by Pict Offshore that eliminates the need for turbine workers to clamber more than 60 feet up a ladder to the base of an offshore tower. Instead, they can clip into a hoist line that has a laser system analyzing wave heights below in real time to synchronize the hoist line's length, gently dropping a person onto the deck of a boat from the platform above. Orsted has a video on its YouTube channel showing the GUS system in action.

 

Over the life of a wind turbine, workers return regularly for maintenance, upgrades or needed fixes. After ascending the base of the tower, lifts inside the pole shuttle them to the top, with a system of safety lines inside and out in case of any misstep or mishap. 

 

Albert Bohemier founded Survival Systems in Nova Scotia after a career in the Royal Canadian Air Force flying helicopters. Bohemier saw a need for better readiness training for pilots after he survived a 1981 crash piloting a helicopter over the Labrador wilderness where he found himself upside-down on top a mass of trees.

 

The experience led him to design and refine a "dunker" system over the years, in which trainees are strapped into a mock-up of their vehicle and then dropped into a deep pool and capsized. The exercise is for students to perform an underwater "egress" or escape. The company has built 115 of the devices since the 1980s, with several installed at U.S. military bases for on-site training led by instructors with Survival Systems, affiliates and other organizations who want to train their people to be able to deal with alarming scenarios.

 

“When they come in to take the underwater escape training, they’re not just learning the steps of what to do — they’re learning how to deal with high-stress situations," said Keith Wille, a program manager for Survival Systems USA. "It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, I’ll find a reference point, I’ll open my door, I’ll take off my seatbelt' — but when you add the stress of being underwater, it magnifies your emotions. What we really teach people is how to make sound decisions under pressure and in high-stress situations."

 

An entity called Tower Climbers Grease Monkeys has a YouTube video online showing what the experience is like, including underwater views as a mock aircraft capsizes, with instructors staying at the ready to assist any trainees who become disoriented or otherwise require a hand underwater.

 

“They are not in any real danger when they’re training, whether they are training at height or they are training underwater," Wille said. "It’s all perceived danger — it gives them the realistic feeling that they’re underwater and their air source has been taken away and they need to make a series of correct decisions for the best possible outcome."

 

Besides teaching how to safely navigate the tops of windmills or freeing themselves from submerged vehicles, students at the Groton facility are offered other types of ocean survival training as well, including the proper technique for plunging into the water from a platform above the pool; executing rescue basket lifts from the sea to a helicopter; deploying, boarding and securing inflatable lifeboats; scrambling onto ladders from pitching boat decks; and other hazardous scenarios on the high seas.

 

If rare, helicopter crashes in open water do occur, with the HeliOffshore aviation safety organization documented more than 15 incidents globally between 2013 and 2018. In Groton on Friday, the president of the Greater  Chamber of Commerce Bruce Flax read a letter to Survival Systems written by one crew member who credited the company for his own survival after such an incident.

 

"When it actually happened, it didn't feel like a first-time experience," the crew member wrote. "I can't say that I worked everything exactly the way I should have — the real thing is different in so many ways — but here I am."
 

CT Post Article Published June 29, 2024, https://www.ctpost.com/business/article/ct-groton-survival-wind-farm-revolution-orsted-19514916.php

Survival Systems USA

860-405-0002​  *  888-386-5371

 

Survival Systems USA, Inc.

144 Tower Avenue Groton, CT 06340

 

 

sales@survivalsystemsinc.com