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Storm Response And Organized Chaos: How Can Utilities Prepare And Plan For The Unpredictable?

Mr. Lewis, who has completed more than 100 reviews of electric reliability systems and processes that include emergency response plans for major events, noted that regulators are responding in an unprecedented manner, requiring utilities to improve all aspects of their restoration practices including: readiness, communications and outage reporting, and restoration.  

"A combination of people, organization, process and technology"

A robust pre-storm preparation will lay the foundation for a successful response to a major event.  

According to Mr. Lewis, this preparation should focus on "people, organization, process and technology":

  • P eople involves providing sufficient staffing coverage to meet the challenges, while ensuring workers are appropriately trained for safety and effectiveness
  • Organization involves the appropriate mix of centralized communications and decentralized restoration, whereby the utility mobilizes multiple storm response centers across its affected service region, with adequate backups and redundancies across all levels to deal with the unexpected
  • P rocess involves the effective and efficient performance of the entire operation including information flows and communications, logistic (e.g., accommodations and materials), damage assessment, packaging and prioritization of work, crew complement and dispatch, safety, and coordination of mutual aid.  
  • T echnology involves the systems, tools, and equipment that facilitate the efficient restoration of customers and the effective communication of accurate information to all stakeholders.

People and Organization

When Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, Governor Christie urged utilities to make more progress and "throw out their playbooks," fast tracking discussions with FEMA to coordinate additional resources to restore power. As a result, crews from as far away as CA were airlifted by the military to help with restoration.  Utilities mobilized employees and contractors and secured approximately 25,000 linemen. However, many of these resources came days after the storm, often because nearby states were holding their own crews in case they were impacted worse than anticipated. With a storm of this magnitude, each utility and State is scrambling for as many resources as they can contract.  Effective utilities bring in both union and non-union labor and utilize non electric employees within the company to serve as damage assessors or live wire down guards. Some companies have also effectively enlisted the support of retirees who know the system and can make excellent damage assessors or even guides for foreign crews.  

The organizational structure supporting the storm response is another critical factor in a successful response.  Effective organizations do not come from paper charts; they are built through years of education, experience, and practice in the form of mock storm drills. The organization should facilitate the entire functioning of the operation, but communications and restoration are paramount.  

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