Utility Outage Management: Before and After the Emergency

Emergency management is the fastest-moving operational challenge faced by most utilities. Storm management outcomes have dramatic implications for infrastructure health, customer satisfaction, service reliability, and safety.

Field technicians, dispatchers, management personnel, and other utility professionals can meet this challenge best when they have access to timely, intuitive, and detail-rich intelligence regarding the current situation.

This blog is the first in a series where we will examine how analytics provide valuable support for a variety of interconnected outage management workflows. Throughout the series, we will look at the components of Emergency Preparedness and Response shared below in depth and explain how Utility360 addresses the unique challenges posed by each.

We begin with an overview of two basic categories of outage management work. First, we discuss essential capabilities before an emergency occurs. Vegetation management, feeder analyses, asset health analytics, and incident forecasting can all help limit the operational impact of a storm or other emergency. Second, we look at key capabilities during and after the emergency, when near real-time data can help support the most effective possible decision-making for the fastest possible service restoration.

As we explore below, the right analytics capabilities are extremely valuable for both categories of work.

Essential Outage Management Capabilities: Before the Emergency

These proactive workflows help limit incident frequency and mitigate the impact of issues when they do occur.

Vegetation Management

Vegetation can damage utility assets by overgrowing power lines, sparking wildfires (from mechanical sparks or lightning strikes) and collapsing onto critical infrastructure. These issues pose a risk to reliability, drive up costs, and can even leave utilities open to potential legal liabilities.

These risks can be proactively spotted and addressed but doing so requires meticulous inspection work. Vegetation management needs to take into account a variety of data on weather, asset health, and more. Risks can even vary according to season, and analytics play an essential role translating these complex, interrelated data into actionable insights.

Feeder Analysis

Feeder analysis is essential during storm response (see below) but feeder analytics can also drive real value before the storm hits. Using machine learning, a utility can predict distribution system failures based on data like feeder age, circuit composition, and ongoing/historical load.

Tracking Asset Health

Utility analytics can help predict equipment failures before they occur using predictive maintenance insights. While the underlying analytics may be complex, they can be translated into a intuitive Asset Health Scorecard that shows which assets are most at risk—essential intelligence for prioritizing maintenance work, determining when to replace aging equipment, or determining where to position crews before a storm.

Incident Forecasting

To respond as effectively as possible, utilities need to know when a storm will hit, what path it will follow, and how intense it will be. Weather forecasts need to be compered to past events to project potential damage and restoration time. And customers need to be warned of impending outage risks as soon as possible.

Advanced utility analytics are foundational to effective forecasting, providing reliable forecasts that ameliorate the famous unpredictability of utility emergencies.

Essential Outage Management Capabilities: During and After the Emergency

Once an emergency begins unfolding, outage management needs shift suddenly from prediction and prevention to near real-time monitoring, crew management, issue resolution, and customer communication.

Crew Staging

Crew management is an essential part of outage management, and it only becomes more urgent when an emergency hits. Utility analytics can help track crew availability, location, on/off shift status, skills, and more—all the information needed to assign the crew with right skill set and shortest response time to an outage. Predictive analytics allow utilities to identify vulnerable assets in the path of an upcoming storm and stage the appropriate crew nearby for quick restoration.

Feeder Analysis

Real-time analytics give utilities a far more transparent view of feeder status than was possible in the past. Utilities can improve service reliability by tracking precisely which feeders are responsible for outages, which customers are connected, and where restoration work needs to be targeted. Real-time data against feeder’s historical trend allows for setting up performance thresholds that can help with preventive actions before a major breakdown.

Mutual Aid Planning

Natural disasters (especially events like floods or fires that affect entire regions) can cause so much widespread damage that utility crews are stretched past the breaking point. Mutual aid plays an essential role when tackling these scenarios. Advanced distribution analytics can help utilities anticipate emergency aid needs, which can help both plan for the aid needs of other utilities and warn mutual aid partners of an impending internal issue.

How Utility360 Solves Four Common Outage Management Challenges

HEXstream developed Utility360 as a turnkey outage management platform. Our team has successfully delivered analytics solutions for some of the largest utilities in North America, and we used that foundation to closely align Utility360 with some of the biggest operational challenges associated with managing an emergency.

Utility360 focuses on the delivery of clear, consistent, and relevant insights. Outage information is displayed visually, enabling end users to ascertain key information fast, track dynamic issues at a glance, and maintain near real-time operational awareness.

Utility360 can drive substantial value across all of the outage management challenges discussed above. To maximize their impact, the platform is designed to directly address four core outage management challenges for utilities.

  1. Emergency Preparedness & Prediction: Utility360 can transform data from varied sources (like past outage events, predicted storm paths, and asset management data) into valuable forecasts of which areas are likely to be most effective, what the impact is likely to be, and how long resolution could take.

    This information is extremely valuable for preparing a response plan, taking precautionary measures, staging crews near high-value assets, and more. Utility360 can even analyze details like traffic, road conditions, closures, and specific crew skillsets (and put this information in a mobile-friendly form for field service operations).

  2. Providing Accurate ETR (Estimated Time to Restoration) & Reliability Reporting: accurate reliability metrics are essential for monitoring restoration work, providing accurate projections to customers, and supporting continuous improvement initiatives (we take a deeper look at ETR reporting in our blog here). Accurate ETR times help prioritize restoration to focus on critical customers and impending ETR deadlines.

  3. Supporting Transparent, Continual Communication with Customers: effective communication can be just as important as service restoration to customer satisfaction. Utility360 addresses this challenge with critical customer planning, personalized customer communication preferences, and interactive customer-facing outage maps. And communication is not just about customer satisfaction: customer-to-utility communication is a great resource for detecting issues like downed wires and infringing vegetation.

  4. Establishing and Sharing a Single Version of Truth Across Internal Systems: with multiple source systems across the organization, each streaming near real-time data, utilities face a continuous challenge: make data available in near real-time without sacrificing meticulous synchronization. Utility360 breaks down data silos, capturing data and transforming it via a “smart data consumption” approach that keeps data synchronized while feeding it into dashboards, interactive reports, and downstream applications.

Learning More About Utility Analytics for Outage Management

Utility360 offers analytics capabilities tailored to each of the outage management workflows discussed above. This comprehensive feature-set allows the platform to function as a true one-stop shop for outage analytics.

HEXstream is a solutions-driven company dedicated to solving problems and helping utilities get the most value possible out of their data. Our success is rooted in technical acumen, deep domain knowledge, and extensive experience working with some of the largest utilities in North America.

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