Improving outage response with situational preparedness
The recent increase, and likely continued worsening, of storm activity and extreme weather events worldwide has highlighted the need for improving the resiliency of electric utilities. As defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, Resiliency measures do not prevent damage; rather they enable electric facilities to continue operating despite damage and/or promote a rapid return to normal operations when damages and outages do occur.
Resiliency in the utility world relies on situational preparedness. Situational preparedness is all about situational intelligence, meaning harnessing data and collective intelligence of the organization to put the right information at the fingertips of the right people. During severe weather events, utility personnel resources are heavily stressed, yet they must respond effectively and efficiently. Situational intelligence allows personnel to make timely and informed decisions and carry out the appropriate actions during a utility’s most critical outage response periods.
At Alabama Power Company, they have embraced specific situational preparedness practices. As Larry Clark, Principal Engineer, PD Technology describes: “We use the GIS to look at predicted storm surges along the coast as well as previous years’ records and what that meant in terms of poles and wires. We then start moving people to potentially impacted areas before a storm hits. This gives us a chance to be proactive in addressing damage.”
Part of situational preparedness is the need for utilities to be ready to rapidly and effectively assess the damage to their systems and use that information to restore power quickly and safely during a storm event. To do so utilities are now undertaking storm response training. An example is Florida Power & Light, which was reported to routinely trains its employees via an annual storm drill.
Though much of current utility training focuses on those in the field during a storm event, utilities are now also turning to software to facilitate situational preparedness. Sophisticated simulation software allows utilities to train their operators on routine and complex events. Replay engines and event scripts enable teams to develop complex training scenarios with an amazing level of detail. Replaying a major event in which includes millions of meter messages, tens of thousands of customer calls, and an equal number of SCADA events, allows electric distribution utilities to evaluate system and team performance for responsiveness and capacity with a level of realism not available only a few years ago.
That realism translates into situational preparedness. Situational preparedness allows utilities to improve their situational intelligence and thereby their outage response to become more resilient in the face of more frequent and devastating severe weather events.