Hurricanes and other extreme weather that blow out masses of power infrastructure in giant sweeps seems to happen in clusters—as if by some serious, if sad, planning. Utilities may go a decade without a hurricane coming only to find two or three hit them in a year with a particularly bad season.
Three utility executives—two in the U.S. and one from Europe—sat down to talk to us about the storms they’ve weathered (literally) and what they’ve learned from those storms (figuratively).
While they all noted that there are no silver bullets to take out the monster of mass outages, they do have some steeped-in-experience advice.
Here are the top four tidbits from this conversation:
1. Simplify the restoration process. Those automated systems that you rely on during regular weather patterns are going to be overloaded during a big outage event. So, having a streamlined version that you can tap into during a large event could save you tech time, customer satisfaction and employee frustration. Some concepts: During a mass outage, don’t do individual tickets. Do mass ones by geography until post event. Color online maps in regions rather than, again, individual houses and businesses, allowing for a bit more elbow time as you work.
2. Make field communications the top priority. In the everyday world, field services is important but not the top of the hierarchy. When large areas of your geography have no power, your field services people (and the outside crews you bring in to help) are now front-line soldiers in the battle back to civilization. So, give them the best weapons for the fight, and making their ability to be aware—situationally, regionally, tech-wise and team-wise—constant will be the smartest way to get back to the status quo your customer is used to (and that your customer expects).
3. Educate the end customer and your people, too. When? Before a storm hits. Shift messaging from prep for the storm to restoration information, including feasible timing. Train and retrain staff to deal with customer emotions and reactions. And then, during the event, have sympathy. People out of power get upset. That’s natural (and, by the way, they’ll likely now text you or go through your app rather than call).
4. Go superhero with your tech. Smarter outage management systems that focus on both communication with customers and having all those distributed assets talking, too, is key to start this up. It may take some trial and error to get the equation right, but there is no doubt that better, faster, newer is going to help.
Give the right tech people the ability to put their right tech into top gear during a storm event, and you will likely find they bring you real-time info, forecast info, outage info in practical ways that you never would have been able to plan for (or thought of asking for). Sit those data scientists in with the GIS peeps and see what they can uncover, for example. After all, the word “innovation” has good connotation for a good reason: You get good results. To quote one of the experts, “Innovation drives you toward reliability. They are not mutually exclusive.”
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