Roger Gregg, general manager of University Mall in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is flanked by (L-R) Alabama Power lineman Larry Gonzalez, lead lineman Mark Hulsey, apprentice lineman Ryan Markham and lead lineman Terrell Walton.

A string of tornadoes destroyed homes, businesses and electric infrastructure in the northern half of Alabama, as well as communities in southeast Mississippi and northwest Georgia. Line crews worked around the clock for a week, repairing downed lines and substations. Aiding restoration efforts were newly installed smart grid technologies that speed outage information to operators, enabling crews to identify and reach troubled areas much more quickly. The Southern Company system has been adding technologies like this for more than 20 years.

April 27, 2011. The sun came up as usual, a normal enough beginning to a typical spring morning. But for the residents of west central Alabama, normal was about to be changed forever. On TV and radio, the warnings came early and often, and when the storms struck, they were short-lived but devastatingly thorough. A wave of deadly tornadoes cut a swath across the Southeast that day, causing loss of life and leaving hundreds of thousands without power. Outside Tuscaloosa, Fred McKinley’s Alabama Power line crew watched in disbelief as a succession of funnels traced a path through their town. For the next several days, they and hundreds of fellow crew members in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi worked day and night, rebuilding lines and substations in neighborhoods they barely recognized anymore. Incredibly, within a week, service had been restored to everyone who was capable of receiving it.

Natural disasters are a fact of life, and linemen know they’ll be called in for such duty eventually. It’s never easy, but it’s part of the job, and for them a way of giving back to a community in need. We salute these men and women and the thousands of co-workers who support them, especially on days like this.