Storm Response and Sandy Analysis: How Can Utilities Prepare and Plan for the Unpredictable?

Photo: Jersey Central Power & Light

After the United States suffered through the worst storm in history on the east coast, 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, the best and successful storm response is managed through “a combination of people, process and technology.”

How did the utilities do after Hurricane Sandy?

“According to our analysis, we observed that five of 11 utilities across the Tri-State area restored power to over 90% of their customers by Sunday, Nov. 4,” said Lewis. “However, while the majority of customers may have been restored within the general Estimated Time of Restoration (ETR) of 7 to 10 days, many customers may experience outages for over two weeks after the storm and will have to bear yet another weekend without power in freezing temperatures.”

For utilities, being strategic in the preparation and planning for major storms improves the restoration times, minimizes risks to public safety, and improves public perception of the utility, as the extreme weather impacts from Hurricanes Sandy and Irene over the past two years have shown.

Lewis, who has completed more than 100 certifications of 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, process and technology'

According to Lewis, managing “a combination of people, process and technology” is the solution to successful storm response.

People involves optimal staffing coverage by hour, day and month along with appropriate training, Process involves response time reduction through best practice implementation and communication, while technology involves data analysis and organization through mobile solutions in the field. A robust pre-storm preparation will lay the foundation for a successful response, and this preparation is paramount when dealing with a major event.

People: Last week 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. And although it may be too early to assess the repercussions or the full cost recovery sought by utilities, New York Governor Cuomo instructed the state Public Service Commission to begin proceedings to revoke certificates for utilities that had performed poorly.

In an effort to aid restoration, utilities mobilized employees and contractors and secured approximately 17,000 additional linemen, including out-of-state utility assistance from as far as California to assist with the storm. However, these increases came almost four days after the storm. So to improve future effectiveness and response times, utilities should:

  • Recruit and train personnel to identify and conduct duties such as monitoring live wire down locations where the utilities’ safety is at risk Improve coordination of various mutual aid groups beyond routine phone calls between all affected parties searching for additional linemen. The recruitment should leverage all available technology, reporting the number of resources available, skill sets, and other considerations to ensure adequate resourcing, obtain formal union vs. non-union storm waivers, and include the use of non-electric operations resources, meter techs and retirees.
  • Consider the use of specialized logistics companies to initiate pre-staging of resources, lodging, meals and materials.

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 six million customers without power in the Tri-State region, the response by some utilities has drawn the wrath of regulators and politicians.

Lewis said that the key challenge for utilities to accurately issue ETRs after Sandy has been to assess damage caused by the storm. In some areas the effort has required the utility to rebuild entire sections of their electric distribution system. A combination of process and technology can greatly improve this stage of storm response in both a)communication to customers and b)response and restoration:

  • Establish ETR baselines using historic averages by region or equipment type so that these can be used when a storm hits.
  • Leverage mobile technology to report damage in real-time to utility control centers via videos or pictures. 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, process and technology, utilities are then 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 coordinating effectively with their customers, the media, local authorities and regulators.



Just cut down the trees ( I did not say prune the trees) that could be a problem in a storm. Replace the old poles. Improve the guy wire systems. Pass a law that requires the PUC to do their job and enforce utilities to provide a reliable system.
Prevention is much better that the cure.
The entire above ground distribution system needs to be hardened.
So who pays for that? The answer is the same folks that pay for the repairs and losses after a storm.

Remembering the Ice storm

I remember when the ice storm happened in the late 90's and how powerless it left my family and friends back then.We cannot compete with mother nature.I'm thinking about showcasing some pictures from the ice storm using graphics design columbia sc in memory of the devastation.