NEW YORK, Nov. 15, 2012 /CNW/ - After the US east coast suffered through
the worst storm in history, storm response is on everyone's mind. So
how can utilities prepare and plan for the unpredictable? According to Jeff Lewis, expert in electric utility reliability at PA Consulting
Group and ReliabilityOne[TM]program director, successful storm response is managed through "a combination of people,
organization, process and technology."
How did the utilities do after Hurricane Sandy?
"According to our analysis of Hurricane Sandy, 5 of 10 utilities across
the Tri-State area restored power to over 90% of their customers within
seven days, whereas after Hurricane Irene all 10 utilities had restored
at least 90% of customers within a week. This demonstrates the
tremendous power and impact of Superstorm Sandy, which affected
approximately seven million customers in the Tri-State area, compared
to Irene which affected nearly four million," said Mr. Lewis.
Given the duration of this major event, Mr. Lewis added, "Customers,
regulators and public officials are focused on the estimated time to
restoration (ETR), which is when a customer can expect to have power.
This is the single most important piece of information a utility can
provide under these circumstances. For Hurricane Sandy, we observed
eight out of 10 utilities achieved their respective system-wide ETR.
Most utilities waited until three days after the storm before issuing
an ETR so they could assess the damage. Still, many utilities were
criticized for not providing accurate ETRs at the local level. With
temperatures dipping below freezing, customers want to know exactly
when their power will be restored". The pressure on utilities reached a
climax when New York's Governor Cuomo threatened to revoke the licenses
of those utilities that failed to deliver.
For utilities, being strategic in the preparation and planning for major
storms improves restoration times, minimizes risks to public safety,
and enhances public perception of the utility, as the extreme weather
impacts from Hurricanes Sandy and Irene over the past two years have
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":
People involves providing sufficient staffing coverage to meet the challenges,
while ensuring workers are appropriately trained for safety and
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
Process 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.
Technology 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.
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
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
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.
About PA Consulting Group
PA Consulting Group is a firm of more than 2,000 people, specializing in
management and IT consulting, technology and innovation. Independent
and employee-owned, we operate globally from offices across Europe and
the Nordics, the United States, the Gulf and Asia Pacific. We work
with businesses and governments to anticipate, understand and meet the
challenges they face. We have outstanding technology-development
capability and a unique breadth of skills, from strategy to performance
improvement, from HR to IT. Our expertise covers energy, financial
services, life sciences and healthcare, government and public services,
defense and security, transport and logistics, telecommunications,
consumer goods and automotive. PA Consulting Group has partnered with
energy clients for over 25 years to help them understand the challenges
they face and define and implement an effective strategic response. PA
Consulting Group has identified best practices that utilities should
implement during successful storm response, leveraging client
experience our benchmarking programs, and our ReliabilityOne™ and
ServiceOne awards, which recognize utilities that have excelled in
providing outstanding reliability and customer service. For more
information about PA Consulting Group, visit http://www.paconsulting.com/energy .
SOURCE: PA Consulting Group
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