Securing Help in Dealing With a Power Outage

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy struck the United States, leaving billions of dollars of damage in its wake. About 10 million customers lost power in 24 states. The impact was astronomical.

The solution needed to match the size of the problem, and the utility industry rose to the occasion. Tens of thousands of electrical workers were deployed, representing over 80 utility companies in the United States and Canada.

One shudders to think of the casualties and dangers that may have arisen if the needed help was not available. However, using mutual assistance allowed utilities to mitigate the damage from this deadly superstorm.

Utilities face weather challenges regularly, and with global climate change, that danger is increasing. Optimizing your power restoration process and making confident, data-based decisions is key to reducing the damage to your service territory. With Storm Impact Analytics, your utility will be able to rise to the challenge and provide the best service to your customers.

Read on to learn more about the need for mutual assistance, how it works and how utilities can form a complete and comprehensive response plan.


Fallen tree on residential street with heavy snow

The need for timely power restoration after a storm

Today’s customer does not simply expect power to be restored quickly; they demand it. In addition, your reputation is on the line, as today’s age of social media provides ample opportunity for your brand to be associated with the latest untimely weather event.

Additionally, electricity does more than keep the lights on. Our modern worlds rely on electrical service for everything, from the mundane to the essential. For example, the hospitals and other necessary institutes rely on a constant flow of power to ensure your customer’s safety and well-being.


Utility trucks working on power poles

Mutual assistance: help when you need it most

John Donne famously said that no man is an island, but it turns out that no utility company is either.

Simply put, many utilities are ill-equipped to face significant outages. Between managing aging infrastructure and rising customer demands, a single utility can only provide so much in terms of a solution.

Stretching your resources too far comes with its own set of dangers. The safety of your employees could be at risk, along with the potential for damage to your equipment.

Your utility faces a growing number of natural disasters and aging infrastructure. Therefore, mutual assistance comes as a welcome alternative. It combines the strength, resiliency, and connectedness of the utility industry. Companies across the nation work together toward a common goal: restoring power with minimal risk or strain on resources.


How it works

Utility companies work together during outages to provide extra support, workforce, and equipment in restoring power. These are voluntary programs, but savvy utilities know that the importance of having assistance when you need it the most cannot be understated.

There are formal processes in place for requesting and providing mutual assistance. These processes are governed by mutual assistance agreements and will usually cover several utilities that will work together.

Utilities within a mutual assistance agreement will typically span a relatively broad geographical area to provide the needed support. This broad reach accounts for instances when a weather event may strike a neighboring utility, rendering them incapable of providing you with needed support. 

A wide geographical representation ensures that someone within the mutual assistance agreement will be outside of the storm system and will be able to provide aid. 

Any workers called upon to provide mutual assistance are given the support they need to perform their roles successfully. For example, they will receive training on the specific infrastructure in place and any anticipated safety hazards.

Mutual assistance can be beneficial for both utilities and their customers. For the customer, mutual assistance provides a faster response time to restore power. For utilities, it will help avoid damage to equipment due to freezing temperatures or potential fire hazards caused by non-functioning appliances. 

When the lights go out, and people are left in the dark without any idea of when their power will be restored, mutual aid can help by providing an additional workforce for restoration efforts. It means not only more boots on the ground but also equipment and tools.

As well, there are limitations to using outside contractors. For example, utility companies can call for mutual assistance, but that means you need to know who is available and what equipment they have available.


Utility workers fixing power lines

Outside contractors

Outside contractors are another excellent option for utilities who need help during power outages because they come equipped to get the power back up and running quickly.

Utilities may seek the assistance of third-party electrical contractors experienced in power line restoration, especially when the damage is extensive.

However, utilities are running on leaner budgets than ever before, and you are looking for ways to save money. Therefore, using outside contractors needs to be implemented with laser precision.


Planning ahead for a power outage

You have heard it before: if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. This idiom is especially true for utilities that have critical equipment and substations.

Finding mutual assistance can be difficult in an emergency, as many companies are working overtime with their own situations to handle. Even finding outside contractors may prove challenging if they cannot reach you during a weather event due to downed trees or other blockages.

While you cannot control the weather, you can plan for it. Weather forecasting is becoming more accurate all the time, and robust weather prediction tools can give you reliable and accurate insights into the severe weather your service territory will face.

As well, when there is a major storm coming, often utilities are all trying to obtain the same mutual assistance resources and the process can become quite competitive.  Accurate weather forecasting will give you an extra edge to be able to make those mutual assistance requests earlier.

Therefore, you can understand what tools you currently have in place and what extra help you may need. The further in advance that you can alert your utility partners that mutual assistance is required, the more quickly they will be able to respond.


Tree fallen on power lines

Understanding the full picture

Shortening the amount of time before power is restored means taking all of your information and making insightful decisions when looking at your outage map. When severe weather strikes, the more information at your fingertips, the more confidently you can make decisions.

Available mutual assistance is simply one piece of the puzzle. There are many other factors to consider, from the storm’s nature and severity to where and when it will strike.

As well, you need to understand how severe weather affects your service area. For example, what vegetation grows there, and what is your tree trimming cycle? Where is your infrastructure, and what are your vulnerabilities?

How can you manage all that information? DTN Storm Impacts Analytics allows you to better plan staffing and restoration with sophisticated predictions unique to your utility’s infrastructure and service area. More than just data, you will have actionable insights to support a higher readiness level and prepare and react to the storm.