Will the Lights Stay on During the ‘Epic’ Blizzard?
Author: Kristin Amico
As New England braces for what could be the largest snowstorm in 35 years, what’s most striking is that preparations are largely the same as they were more than a quarter century ago. There’s a run on staples at grocery stores, and AccuWeather has warned, “If the power goes out, it could take a while for crews to repair the lines.”
Why does it take so long for the power to return after storms?
First, at least in Massachusetts, the storm is expected to bring rapid snowfall combined with gusts of wind approaching hurricane levels. Second, while individual utility companies are preparing as best as possible for the storm, and calling up backup as needed, the problem often arises after backup arrives.
The problem: many utility companies are utilizing state-of-the art scheduling and communications solutions that allow for maximum visibility about where issues are occurring, where field workers are, job and priority status, and where they need to go next. And many have sophisticated mobile policies that allow for instant communication with each other and back office systems. BUT, once a backup crew comes on the scene to help, the two utility companies aren’t usually able to automatically communicate with each other or view the others’ schedules.
A proposed solution: digitize the planning and scheduling aspects of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) Mutual Assistance Program. Typically, EEI regional committee members vet mutual assistance needs and liaise between utilities to arrange backup crews to help utilities dealing with disasters. Today, execution of this Mutual Assistance Program happens via paper and phone calls, creating lag time in getting the right resources to the right places. Once on the scene, supplemental crews face more inefficiencies as they have to rely on ‘old school’ communication methods like face-to-face gatherings at meeting points to wait for orders.
Steps that could streamline the process include:
- Creating an interconnected system that enables immediate sharing of named resources from one utility to another– effectively blocking crews’ time in the sharing utility’s system and making them available for work for the host company.
- Using intelligent and pre-programmed algorithms to quickly and intelligently match available backup resources with utilities’ specific needs and to react to the activities in the field based upon real-time feedback from the field.
Until then, we urge East Coasters to stay safe indoors, and hope that all utility crews face the smallest possible amount of damage possible.