Gaining An Edge In Securing Mutual Assistance

When problem-solving or getting tasks accomplished, having more minds working on it assures the process is easier and quicker. This principle of “many hands make light work” is the guiding thought behind mutual assistance – the practice by which utility companies help each other out during severe weather conditions.

In most areas of a utility operation, the key lies in making data-driven, informed decisions. Storm Impact Analytics provides an accurate weather forecast combined with added analytics powered by data about your individual utility’s power restoration teams and operations.

However, severe weather events produce situations with many moving parts. Mutual aid can quickly complicate matters and frustrate clients without accurate information and proper procedures in place. With the pressures of power outages and customer expectations, a utility company can rapidly go from “strength in numbers” to “too much of a good thing.”

In this article, we will briefly outline the purpose of mutual assistance. Then, we will outline some of the challenges facing utilities when seeking and using mutual aid. Finally, we will outline how you can keep your operations (and expectations) clear and focused when facing a storm.


How does mutual assistance work?

Mutual assistance is when two or more electric utilities help each other restore service to customers. The mutual assistance agreement outlines the specific actions to be taken, such as sending crews and equipment, and how the utility receiving aid will reimburse the costs of those actions.

Mutual assistance arrangements are governed by mutual aid agreements, formal contracts between two or more utilities. Such agreements outline the terms of how each party to the agreement will provide mutual assistance.

Blackout. Texas Suburb after Storm Uri

The challenges facing utilities

The impacts of a power outage can be severe. Quite literally, lives are at stake when the lights go out. For example, the power outages in Texas in early 2021 resulted in the loss of life, some from the cold and others from carbon monoxide poisoning, as residents tried to stay warm.

There are corollary consequences to power outages. For example, the financial ramifications of power outages can result in the loss of business revenue. In addition, utilities face increasing pressure from customers, and a prolonged outage can do irreparable damage to a company’s reputation.

When severe weather threatens a utility’s ability to continue providing power to its customers, decision-makers need to act. Since time is of the essence, you can not afford to waste a moment with old data or slow processes.

Utility workers in cherry pickers

Challenges in obtaining mutual assistance

Imagine a scenario where Utility A and B are neighboring utilities and parties to the same mutual assistance agreement. When they face a significant weather event, they turn to the same pool of resources and request help from a shared regional mutual assistance group.

This creates an environment where utilities in need of help compete for the same resources. As we noted, time is of the essence, so delays in requesting mutual assistance is costly.


Challenges in obtaining the appropriate mutual assistance

A notably positive aspect of the utility industry is its willingness to help fellow utility providers. Linemen often gladly volunteer to assist their counterparts, driving long hours to reach the site of the power outage.

However, decision-makers do not want to send that team in blindly. You want to be sure that you send the right team and the right equipment for the job.

Safety is a definite priority, so you also want to ensure that the conditions are safe for the volunteering crew. This includes being clear about the type of weather conditions anticipated so you can adequately prepare that crew.

There is also the matter of knowing what kind of infrastructure your aid team will be dealing with. Following Hurricane Sandy, one utility involved in mutual aid sent an overhead transmission team to an area that used underground distribution.


Challenges in directing mutual assistance crews

Integrating mutual assistance into an ongoing power restoration process can be challenging. In particular, it can be tricky to direct even experienced crews when they are unfamiliar with your systems and equipment.

Obtaining aid is also a challenge, so you want to be sure you’re using it as efficiently as you can! Optimizing the help you receive means that mutual assistance crews need to be integrated into your restoration process, which includes having a clear idea of how they will be utilized once they arrive.

Of course, being prepared for change is a constant state. While a forecast may give you an idea of how the severe weather will impact your service territory, the reality is that the storm may not play out exactly as expected. Therefore, having an accurate weather forecast is only one part of the solution.

You need to know what weather will hit areas of your service territory the hardest and when it will hit.   The earlier you know the earlier you can request assistance. You need to know what dangers are out there, whether it’s downed lines or impassable roads. You need to be aware of how multiple scenarios could unfold so you can quickly react and readjust as needed.

Not only do decision-makers need an accurate weather forecast, but you also need to integrate that with your data to ensure that the predictive modeling reflects your unique needs and circumstances.

Utility trucks fixing damaged power lines

The answer: Storm Impact Analytics

Storm Impact Analytics is designed to transform weather forecasts into actionable data that can improve your operational efficiencies and allow you to provide a complete picture of the mutual assistance required. Instead of delaying while interpreting vague data, have the information you need at your fingertips.

Storm Impact Analytics by DTN uses a machine-learning approach to create a model predicting the timing and the strength of severe weather. It then applies non-weather data, such as historical storms, asset records and other factors, to predict the effects in your service territory.

By analyzing your historical data and how your infrastructure has resulted in previous weather incidents, Storm Impact Analytics creates insights tailored to your utility. When you reach out for mutual assistance, you can be confident that the help you request is the aid that will help you get back up and running.

When it comes to facing a storm, there is strength in numbers. DTN Storm Impact Analytics will help you make those numbers count! Reach out today to learn more about how you can gain an edge in getting the mutual assistance you need.