Utility Company Emergency Preparedness and Resource Planning
Every utility provider needs to constantly prepare for electricity emergencies. Through planning, training, drilling and amending the preparation response strategy, utilities can prepare their workers for appropriate, rapid response in emergencies. Adequate responses can restore power to the area faster, which is essential for getting locals back to their lives after an emergency.
The Importance of Electric Utility Emergency Response Planning
Power outages are costly for utility companies, consumers and the economy. Utility providers must fund replacement parts and service providers to restore power in emergencies. The more widespread the outage, the more equipment and personnel they need to pay for.
Estimates for the cost of severe weather power outages to electricity customers range from $2 to $3 billion annually. The economy suffers even more from outages, with losses ranging from an estimated $5 to $75 billion annually in the United States. Restoring power faster can reduce the impact outages have on consumers and the economy and allow people to return to their daily lives faster.
Power disruptions are inevitable, regardless of location. Natural and human-made disasters can cut power for up to several weeks or months, depending on the severity of the damage. Utility companies need plans in place to respond to the myriad of threats to their local power grid and know when to help neighboring electricity providers restore their power.
Rapid responses to power outages can save lives. Power disruptions can cut the sources of energy for life-saving equipment, from medical devices to other emergency response essentials. When they can no longer work, lives become at risk.
Restoring power also turns traffic signals back on, reducing the risks of accidents for drivers who try to navigate intersections with darkened traffic lights. Traffic can flow more quickly through the streets, allowing people to evacuate or return to their homes. Emergency responders have fewer obstacles in their way to getting help to people who may need emergency care after a disaster.
Types of Electric Utility Emergencies
Types of emergencies your electric utility may face depend on where you are, though some hazards are present across North America. Or, you may need to contribute some of your team to assist in disaster response in another area — your crews might need to respond to a type of disaster that doesn't usually occur in your location. Understanding the threats to electric utilities becomes essential in creating your emergency response plans for restoring power.
National Response Events (NREs)
A national response event or NRE is not a single type of emergency. Instead, it is a situation that causes a power outage in a large population or across multiple regions. Only significant events such as acts of war, major hurricanes or earthquakes trigger NREs.
These events typically require assistance from multiple regional mutual assistance groups (RMAGs). The size and scope of the outage make restoring power more difficult and more important due to the large number of people affected. Organization among RMAGs to ensure adequate response to the outage is essential for restoring power.
Hurricanes cause devastation to power lines due to their widespread nature and the damage done to roadways. Crews attempting to restore power need to have streets cleared of debris and fallen trees before getting to the power lines to repair them.
While hurricanes often come with some warning, the timing could be as little as a few hours, especially in cases of storms unexpectedly turning or suddenly strengthening. These types of events require large-scale restoration efforts that may take days or weeks, depending on the severity of the storm and its impact on the area. For example, Hurricane Ike that hit Texas in 2008 required two weeks for full power restoration.
Earthquakes strike without warning and can quickly disrupt power distribution and transmission. The high population of earthquake-prone areas and the large spread of damage place many earthquake scenarios as NREs. A catastrophic earthquake model puts between 18 and 20 million people at risk of being affected.
While hurricanes often cause downed power lines and damaged transformers, earthquakes have a greater likelihood of damaging power plants, substations and transmission lines with potentially weeks to months of required restoration times.
Between 2000 and 2014, severe weather such as ice storms, thunderstorms and temperature extremes accounted for 44% of outages, or 8 million outages during that time in the U.S. Temperature extremes can also cause overdemand on the system, especially when extreme heat or cold impact areas that rely almost exclusively on electricity for heating and cooling.
Equipment Failure or Human Error
Even with regular maintenance, equipment errors can still happen, and human error can contribute to temporary outages in an area. In fact, among distribution system problems that lead to outages, human error or equipment failure ranks as second only to fallen trees or weather as a top cause.
Malicious attacks are threats to the system, such as theft or vandalism causing outages, or cyberattacks impacting the system. These types of attacks rank low among potential dangers to utility distribution systems. However, they can cause serious disruption. A hypothetical cyberattack could leave 93 million customers without power, mostly due to disruptions at power plants.
Other forms of malicious attacks, such as acts of war or terrorism that impact distribution lines, can also disrupt power delivery.
Accidents such as vehicles hitting power poles and knocking down transmission lines can impact local customers. While these disruptions are often on a smaller scale, automotive accidents accounted for over 9% of power disruptions between 2008 to 2014.
Animals can also lead to accidental power outages, and between 2008 to 2014, they accounted for around 7% of power outages. By installing wildlife guards, outages caused by accidental animal issues dropped 80%. Depending on the impact animals have on your utility, you may save money in restoration costs by investing in prevention techniques.
Fuel supply deficiencies or disruptions are not very common in many parts of North America. However, in the Midwest United States, this outage cause ranks in the top five and requires the greatest amount of time to restore power. Fuel deficiencies cause an average of 0.47 outages in the Midwest annually and require up to 624.3 hours — about 26 days — to recover from.
Unfortunately, this outage occurs at the power generation phase. Therefore, utility companies often cannot simply send restoration crews to fix the issue. Damaged fuel supply lines or problems with fuel delivery to power plants can cause this issue. As a larger problem stemming from major issues outside the utility, fuel supply disruptions last longer than other causes of outages that are more easily repaired.
Tips for Effective Utility Emergency Response
The variety of emergencies requires effective preparation to ensure your utility company is ready for anything. While hurricanes can provide your operation warning to give you time to stock up on replacement parts, malicious attacks, supply disruptions, earthquakes and severe weather don't offer you time to prepare. Therefore, you need a plan ready to implement at any time. Use the following tips to ensure your company is ready to restore power as soon as possible after an emergency.
Train Personnel and Rehearse Scenarios
First, train all personnel in their roles and responsibilities for disaster response. You should plan to train several backup teams instead of only relying on individuals to replace personnel. Groups of your workers could be stuck at home or require breaks during the power restoration process. Having several teams allows you to swap out members during restoration.
When training personnel, plan for a variety of scenarios and conduct regular drills, both scheduled and unannounced, to ensure the readiness of your team members. You should also stock up on adequate food, water, medical supplies and possibly bedding to tend to workers who may need shelter at your facility during the restoration process.
Focus on Simplicity Over Complexity
Make emergency response as simple as possible to avoid mistakes happening during the event. For instance, keep supplies ready to go for restoring power. Create emergency kits with the replacement parts for transmission and distribution lines and the tools needed to install them. Place these in a storage area where workers can quickly stock their trucks with everything they need to restore power.
Turn to Mutual Assistance
Remember that there are national support networks of mutual assistance. Volunteer networks allow for other utility providers in unaffected areas to loan your team restoration crews to speed up your efforts.
Mutual assistance programs allow your team to get the support it needs during a response to an emergency. All restoration crew members in these programs receive the training they need to help get power restored in your area and to safely navigate the affected region. As professional utility crews, they already know how to restore power quickly and effectively.
For instance, in 2012 when 10 million people lost power from Hurricane Sandy, more than 80 utility companies across the United States and Canada sent tens of thousands of workers to help get power back on.
Conduct Post-Response Assessments
After an event, conduct an assessment of your response. Did your crews get the power restored as quickly as possible? What obstacles did you face? How could you improve next time? The answers to these questions and others can help you refine your future actions for emergency power restoration.
Continue to Refine Responses
The process of preparing for emergencies does not stop. Keep evaluating and refining your emergency utility responses. Use feedback from running drills with your teams and from actual responses following events to hone your strategy for getting power restored.
The Role of Having Infrastructure Resources On Hand
Transformers, cables and wires can restore power grid components including poles and transmission towers. Having the inventory on hand to replace damaged components makes rapid response possible when restoring service. Supplies needed to restore an outage in an emergency may include the following:
- Utility poles and cross arms
- Guy wires
- Tools and connectors
- Single-phase, pole-mounted transformers
- Single-phase and three-phase pad-mounted transformers
- Static shield optical ground wire (OPGW) or other lightning arresters
- Fuses and fuse-links
- Disconnect switches
- Line reclosers
Have the above on hand or at the ready from one or more suppliers to speed up the process of power restoration. When you have these materials ready from suppliers or in your storage, you can go straight to restoring power instead of waiting for parts to arrive.
When planning on-hand resources, consider storing amounts adequate for responding immediately to local outages. Stocking repair trucks with replacement parts allows for immediate repairs when crews go into the field to evaluate outages. This method of preparation can improve power restoration times.
Occasionally, outages will tax your existing stock of replacement parts. In these situations, consider manufacturerund to restock supplies for widespread events. Be sure to still keep quality as a top consideration, whether you're replacing components over a small or large area.
Why Use Top-Quality Equipment for Utility Emergencies
Using low-quality replacement parts as Band-Aid fixes to toppled power poles or blown transformers will ultimately cost more money and time. The low-quality products will fail sooner, requiring additional work and another replacement part. Installing high-quality infrastructure components to make repairs when restoring service will help maintain the integrity of the electricity delivery system.
Aging infrastructures also need the most reliable, quality products available to protect the system against the effects of aging. The electricity transmission and distribution system across the United States consists of a patchwork of aging power lines and other components. Most of these components have a lifespan of 50 years. However, some parts of the electrical grid are much older than that — more than 100 years old. For the transmission and distribution system, 70% is more than 25 years old.
Installing quality replacement parts, especially for the oldest components, can restore the operation of the system quickly. Plus, you won't need to upgrade the entire system after a disaster to get power back to consumers.
As infrastructure ages and growing cities require more power distribution lines, your utility company will face the need to serve a larger grid. Therefore, you need to prepare by stocking up on quality replacement parts to put onto your service trucks. You should also connect with a manufacturer who can restock and supply you with additional quality parts when you need to make widespread repairs to the system.
Request a Quote for Utility Transmission Products From Bekaert
At Bekaert, we are committed to responding to our customers' needs with quality controls, prompt service and necessary support. Our competitive pricing, established reputation and storm response capabilities make us stand apart from other providers of steel wire products. We are the leader in North America for manufacturing and supplying steel wire products to utility companies throughout the continent.
Our products for utilities include guy wires that are necessary for supporting utility transmission towers and poles. We also have static shield for transmission towers to prevent lightning damage. Our lineup of steel wire products for energy utility structures includes everything from messenger wires to hose wire and more. When you have our products on hand for utility restoration, your workers reduce the time required to reset poles and secure them from falling.
Contact us today at Bekaert for a quote on our utility transmission products.