Winter can be an immensely trying time for electric companies, especially those based in Midwestern or Northeastern regions where precipitation is common. In these areas, the winter weather literally weighs heavy on power distribution infrastructure, leading to significant outage events. Even communities south of the Mason-Dixon Line can suffer freezing temperatures and wintry precipitation capable of wreaking havoc on the electrical grid. In all, dozens of service interruptions affecting more than 3 million Americans unfolded between December 2016 and March 2017, according to research from the Energy Information Administration.
Unfortunately, large swaths of the country are bracing for yet another precipitation-filled winter. The Farmers' Almanac predicts snowy and cold conditions for the Midwest and Northeast. Areas in the Southeast can also expect regular ice, sleet and snow to go along with low temperatures. With this scenario in store, utility companies must start readying their operations for winter outage mitigation. Here are some of the strategies electric companies can use when making these preparations:
Focus on worker safety
While maintaining electrical delivery fixtures is the among the top concerns during the winter season, keeping field workers and other utility employees safe should be the primary objective. Winter weather can make seemingly simple tasks immensely dangerous in practice. Take outdoor exposure – during warmer months, deciding whether to venture outside to inspect a meter or transformer requires little consideration. However, with winter winds howling and temperatures dropping below the freezing mark, this decision become significantly weightier. Utility workers can easily suffer from cold stress or even frostbite if exposed for extended periods, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These conditions can put hardworking linemen out of commission, which not only weakens the operation but can also lead to extra expenses in the form of OSHA penalties or court costs.
"Dozens of service interruptions affecting more than 3 million Americans unfolded between December 2016 and March 2017."
Of course, workers can also sustain injuries while in the comfortable confines of their service vehicles. Last year, more than 2,000 employees perished in work-related vehicle accidents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
How can utilities address these risk factors and keep linemen safe over the winter to come? Sophisticated outage management solutions with accurate remote monitoring capabilities can help electric companies make more judicious decisions about deploying field service personnel. And, automatic vehicle location applications are ideal for monitoring workers who have to brave the wintry conditions and contend with serious hazards.
Bolster customer-response tools
In addition to preparing service crews for the dangers they might face in the field, power providers should address the inevitable increase in customer demands. During winter months, business and home owners are less likely to respond with understanding when outages occur. Utility companies in Massachusetts learned this the hard way last year when a winter storm knocked out power to 60,000 residents in the state, leading to an immense influx of customer calls, Mass Live reported.
Electric companies can address this issue with interactive voice response technology, which makes it easier to handle high call volumes and effectively address customer concerns. Of course, mobile applications are also useful in the regard, as utility personnel can easily publish push notifications to keep users informed and offload some potential callers to online messaging platforms.
Electric companies preparing for the winter ahead must adopt the technology and internal processes needed to facilitate safe and effective operations, even as the snow falls. Here at DataVoice International, we develop powerful outage management products that equip utilities with the tools they need to address wintertime service interruptions and the customers affected by them. Connect with us today to learn more about our offerings and the electric companies across the country that trust us to deliver in the harshest conditions.