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

The organization must facilitate the timely and accurate flow of information.  Customers and public officials want to know when crews are scheduled to be working in their towns and most importantly, they demand to know when power will be restored. Centralized control and dissemination of this information ensures a consistent message and helps to manage expectations.

The restoration process at many utilities is decentralized during a major storm event so local managers, closest to the damage, can effectively utilize and allocate their resources.  However, too much decentralization runs the risk of a poor allocation of resources resulting from the failure to see the bigger picture which is the entire service territory.  There is a wide range of approaches to this question in the industry and many different models can work; the effective organizations strike the right balance and develop a workforce that understand their roles and are confident in their abilities.

Process and technology

With many customers experiencing power outages for over a week in the aftermath of Sandy and Irene, with an estimate of over seven million customers without power in the Tri-State region, the response by some utilities has drawn the wrath of regulators and politicians.

Mr. Lewis said that a key challenge for accurately issuing ETRs in the aftermath of Sandy has been the utilities' ability to accurately assess, process, analyze and communicate levels of damage caused by the storm. In some areas the effort has required the utility to rebuild entire sections of their electric distribution system. By focusing on a combination of process and technology, utilities can greatly improve this stage of storm response in terms of both a) communication to customers and b) response and restoration:

  • Establish ETR baselines using averages from previous storms and robust analysis of the available resources and estimates of the type and scope of the work to be completed  
  • Leverage mobile technology to report damage in real-time to utility control centers via video-link or picture messaging. Many utilities across the nation are now integrating sophisticated Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), Outage Management Systems (OMS), and mobile technology deployed in the field to greatly improve their ETRs during storms.
  • Optimize websites, mobile platforms and social media to include information for customers on important storm preparations and how it will affect them.

By adopting a rigorous storm response plan that incorporates people, organization, process and technology, utilities will be in the best position to restore customers' power quickly, while simultaneously battling the elements, repairing/replacing damaged infrastructure, recruiting support internally and from utilities across the nation, as well as communicating effectively with their customers, the media, local authorities and regulators.

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