An Inside Look at One Utility’s Response to Hurricane Sandy

English: Hurricane Irene over North Carolina, ...

I think most of us in the Philadelphia area feel fortunate. We felt the storm’s impact: the local flooding, soggy basements, fallen trees, and downed power lines. At some point during the storm, the local electric utility PECO Energy lost power to more than half of its 1.6 million customers across a wide swath of its service territory. One would have to consider the situation to be a monumental customer service nightmare. Still hearing about the greater destruction along the Jersey shore and into New York made it difficult for widespread complaint or anger.

Most of my township, located just outside the Philadelphia city limits, was without power for three to four days, and, in some isolated spots, even longer. The biggest contributors were the large number of older, mature trees that parallel the utility right-of-ways and overhead power lines. As trees toppled in the 60-plus MPH gusts, they often crossed power lines, thus shorting out the lines, or simply fell and took the power lines down with them.

In addition, many of the distribution feeder lines that traverse the older suburban communities are located behind housing tracts and in back and side yards in areas difficult to attend. Although PECO was able to restore power to many customers thanks to automated systems re-routing power, it was still overwhelmed with the size and
magnitude of the storm damage.

In addition to being an instructor with Enerdynamics, I am also a project contractor at PECO. This afforded me the ability to witness the utility’s formal planning and response to the storm. Well before the storm arrived, PECO called an “all hands” event with all staff assigned to various call centers and locations throughout the service territory. PECO also immediately reached out to its sister Exelon companies, Baltimore Gas and Electric
and Commonwealth Edison, to provide field support.

As the path of the storm gained in stature, PECO secured additional line help from other utilities from Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana. At the height of the
restoration process, PECO had more than 4,500 people working to return power.

In terms of numbers, PECO indicated they had to replace more than 220 miles of wire, nearly 700 poles, and 400 transformers. PECO claimed to have booked over 15,000 repair jobs. These estimates far exceed any prior storm damage including last year’s damage
from Hurricane Irene.

A quick scan of the public reaction to PECO’s restoration efforts has generally been positive. Most customers understood the monumental task the utility faced and were patient in their wait for power. There were exceptions of course, especially in remote locations where some customers were at the end of the repair queue. Interestingly enough, those that did lodge complaints seemed to vent primarily about the difficulty in getting timely and local restoration information. Apparently, customers were not as critical about their loss of power but rather a lack of utility communications. This frustration included mention of the need to better exploit the use and reach of social media and giving customers an accurate sense of when their power may be restored.

Of course if this doesn’t work, customers could always fall back on my neighbor’s strategy: flagging the utility trucks as they drove down the road with the hope of directing them back to the neighborhood!

About Enerdynamics

Enerdynamics was formed in 1995 to meet the growing demand for timely, dynamic and effective business training in the gas and electric industries. Our comprehensive education programs are focused on teaching you and your employees the business of energy. And because we have a firm grasp of what's happening in our industry on both a national and international scale, we can help you make sense of a world that often makes no sense at all.
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