The quest for all electric utilities is simple. Keep the lights on for the communities you serve.
Getting that done, however, is anything but simple.
One challenge tends to rise above the rest: weather. You can do everything right, but Mother Nature is undefeated.
And while hurricanes, floods, ice storms, and other disasters are sure to strike, there are a few things you can do to speed up storm response and get to the goal of a successful restoration and the community’s power restored.
We sat down with Gary Huntley — who’s seen his fair share of hurricanes while he was a VP of Distribution Services in Louisiana — to get his exact process for responding to storms quickly and efficiently.
Utility storm response process
Step 1: Get the indication of storm strength and get a damage estimate
This is the basis of your entire utility storm response plan.
We all know that weather reports change and major storms shift at the last minute. It’s up to each utility to find their sweet spot in terms of the cone of confidence.
Ideally, about a week out from the storm hitting you’ll want to start getting into action. But the best prep time is always more prep time.
If you’re just working with weather data, you’ll get at the minimum the predicted storm path, wind speeds, rain estimates, and speed.
You’ll want to overlay this with your network information to make estimates on the potential impact. This is where technology comes into play.
You’ll need a few data points:
- Pole classification
- Substation elevation
- Vegetation density along your transmission and distribution lines
- Hazard trees along your transmission and distribution ROW
- Topography and roadways
You can get a ballpark estimate just based on storm strength, path and grid classification to say “these areas are likely to be severely impacted.”
But by bringing satellite technology and AI into the equation, you can get a prediction of outages down to the feeder level, get flagged for last minute grid hardening opportunities, predict where flooding or roadblocks may occur, and even predict what resources you’ll need to respond quickly.
Step 2: Work backwards from your damage estimate
The damage estimate might be the foundation you build your storm response plan on, but, unfortunately, getting that’s the easy part.
You have at the minimum a general idea of where damage will be, now you have to start figuring out what resources or rosters you’ll need to start restoration, and more importantly how to get them.
You need to work backwards from the predicted damages and affected areas to figure out what and where you’ll need them.
For a minor storm a rough guess might be enough. For a major storm you need to be as accurate as possible otherwise you might waste resources in one area that doesn’t need them, leaving another in the dark.
Step 3: Coordinate the logistics
Enter mutual assistance coordination.
You can get access to disaster response resources from across the country through these programs, unfortunately it’s anything but simple.
These workers don’t know your system. They don’t know your design criteria. There’s all kinds of safety training and orientations you need to pull off.
And on top of that you have to actually put together those work packets and get the right people to the right areas to get the power back.
Step 4: Get resources to the staging sites
Stage gates, staging sites, whatever you might call them – they’re essentially a place to stage resources (workers, materials, machinery), do any trainings, and receive work orders that’s close enough to respond quickly, while still being out of harm’s way during the storm.
Here are a few key things to look for when considering a good staging site:
- Near major roads or highways
- Topography for heavy equipment (slope, turn radius, clearance)
- Portable water and sewage connections
- Somewhere to house/feed the workers nearby
- Somewhere to train and brief the workers
Step 5: Assess and respond
You’ve predicted damages. You’ve roped in all the needed resources. Everyone is at the staging sites, and they have their marching orders.
But before you can send out the calvary the conditions have to be right.
As a rule of thumb, if winds are above 30-35mph you can’t send out aerial units or bucket trucks.
Certain roadways might be blocked or flooded. Certain areas on your network may have been hit harder than predicted because the storm slowed down or shifted at the last minute.
Every second in a restoration is precious so these are things you have to know in advance.
A faster way for utility storm restoration
Utility storm response is a complex business but there’s a much faster way to get the data you need to make critical business decisions.
You can get a bird’s eye view of road conditions, flood zones, damage reports and more. You don’t have to waste time sending a crew somewhere that’s still two feet underwater.
Before the storm you can see your areas of high risk and get recommendations for grid hardening to minimize the outages where you can.
The best part is, wind speeds don’t affect satellites. There are no “line of sight” issues or flight compliance needed. You can scan your network and know exactly where to send the right people for successful storm restoration and recovery, down to the span level.
Speed is key – every hour you can save is an hour that families can have heat and power. Small businesses can keep serving customers. Outages affect people’s livelihoods.
Taking a data-driven approach to disaster management is the best way to keep the lights on for your community.
Want to see how satellites and AI can save you hours in storm restoration? Talk to a specialist today.