It’s hurricane season here in North Carolina – and we’re not talking about hockey! As I write this, Hurricane Laura is tracking towards the Gulf Coast where it is expected to pound the coast with torrential rains and wind gusts in the triple digits. Although utilities are practiced in pre-storm preparation, it doesn’t always go as smoothly as they would like.

A few weeks ago, Hurricane Isaias left millions of Americans along the east coast without power. Despite a quick response from utilities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other northeast states, restoring power to millions of homes requires significant time and effort. The days spent without power are uncertain and stressful for both utility crews and the community members they serve. This is exacerbated by the impacts that extended outages can have on healthcare equipment and supplies, such as failure of electronic medical devices and expiration of refrigerated medications.

In fact, these extended power outages prompted bipartisan energy and technology committee leaders in the northeast to unveil the “Take Back Our Grid Act.” The act is designed to hold utilities responsible for providing quality customer service in the form of faster power restoration and reimbursement for damages and losses that result from outages lasting longer than 48 hours. Utilities that fail to effectively and efficiently repair damages caused by destructive storms are also at risk of facing fines and other penalties. That’s why the best course of action against unpredictable, yet inevitable natural disasters is preparation.

If the National Weather Service’s forecast is accurate, we can expect as many as 25 named storms in 2020 – double what we typically see throughout an average hurricane season. While we cannot control the weather, utilities can certainly safeguard against the devastating effects of future storms and subsequent power outages through a variety of means. This includes keeping trees trimmed, buying power lines, training and retaining staff, devising an emergency preparedness plan, and investing in a reliable outage management solution.

The most proactive utilities rely on a combination of components to help them manage extended power outages effectively and efficiently while maintaining customer satisfaction.

Key Components for Weathering the Storm

  • Outage management system (OMS) for crucial data analysis.
  • Customer portal to provide real-time updates to residents.
  • Point-to-multipoint AMI system in which each endpoint communicates directly to the data collector without relying on neighboring endpoints, which may be impacted by the outage.
  • Data collectors with up to 8 hours of battery back-up to maintain communications with two-way endpoints.
  • Geographically dispersed Disaster Recovery head end system to protect against data loss.
  • Hosted head end system managed by a team of experts in a safe, secure data center to make disaster recovery easier, cheaper, and more convenient.
  • Fault isolation thru Distribution Automation, which limits the impact of the outage.

We have all witnessed the destruction caused by natural disasters of the past, but we can gain peace of mind by preparing for those of the future. As long as utilities keep planning ahead, responding fast, working hard, and deploying the right technology, we can be confident in their ability to weather any storm.