How Are Utility Companies Handling Sandy?
Author: Mike Karlskind
Here in Massachusetts we were fortunate to avoid the worst of Sandy’s wrath. Overall the Frakenstorm resulted in peak outages of more than 8 million residents in 18 states. How does this compare to Hurricane Irene from August 2011—the last major east coast hurricane?
Here are the two storms by the numbers:
Irene: 14 states affected
Sandy: 18 states affected
What’s changed from last year? Even though this week’s storm was stronger, as well as larger in geography and outages, the response from utility companies has been hailed in comparison to last year’s Irene. Anecdotally, the communication to government agencies and individuals has been more targeted and accurate, and available via more methods. In the past, the consumer had to call the utility company or seek out news reports for statuses. This time the utilities are sending out proactive emails, texts and phone calls, and even Tweets to alert consumers to status and expected outage time.
Having worked with scores of utility companies across the globe, here are some best practices that will keep crews and officials on track during emergency repair and cleanup:
- Increase communication with the press and consumers via all methods (especially social media) to ensure that that your message is being heard by all parties while the team is working to restore power.
- Keep up the pace – with supplemental utility crews here now, this is the time to tackle the largest jobs and prioritize
- Maximize the time of the additional resources by ensuring schedules are made and priorities are communicated to the entire staff
- Keep in constant communication – this sounds easier than it is given the large number of additional resources who may not be on the same network as the local crews
- Make daily estimates of how much work is left and who needs to do the work in order to ensure that the additional crews have work, but can then be sent back home as soon as possible. This avoids higher costs to taxpayers.
Even after Sandy is cleaned up and all power is restored, there will be other weather emergencies, especially with an increase of extreme weather patterns being felt across the country. How do utility companies take the next step and further evolve to offer better service and communication? Here are tips that will benefit the industry in both times of emergency and everyday business:
- Create a system that enables mobile dispatch of work to supplemental crews. Right now additional resources that are brought in from other districts can’t typically communicate via the same mobile tools.
- Ensure this communication can go two ways by enabling the supplemental crews to make mobile updates from the field.
- Reduce idle time of field workers waiting for assignments or weather / travel restrictions (during down-time implement safety training, ground work, tree work, etc.)
- Optimize the assignment of work (right sized crew, right time, right place, right priority) – at the click of a button, e.g. according to Storm Restoration Process
- Power Plants
- Transmission Lines
- Create a consumer mobile app for outage and restoration updates (Take lessons from the Red Cross)
- Pre-prepare electricians for hire to reconnect individual houses (responsibility of customer)
- Make Mutual Assistance electronic or Systematic (per EEI Mutual Assistance Network)