As an electricity provider, your organization has a simple mission: Keep the power on for your customers. Every year, powerful storms make that mission more difficult.
While there's no bad time to have the added visibility and control that come with an outage management system (OMS), this extra level of digital oversight is especially important during storm season. Hurricanes, tropical storms and other large-scale weather events can cause severe power grid damage, demanding a coordinated response from utility providers.
Before storm season comes around again, it's worth taking stock of your outage response systems and practices. If there are still too many inefficient legacy systems in place, it's worth making an upgrade to a modern OMS.
The Specter of Extreme Weather
The combination of aging power grids and increased instances of powerful storms has caused ongoing issues for electrical utilities across regions. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts the problem in perspective. Since 1980, there have been an average of 7.7 billion-dollar weather disasters per year, but since 2017, the average is 17.8 per year.
Every region has its own type of storms to deal with, and therefore its highest-risk seasons. Tornadoes on the Great Plains can destroy power grid infrastructure, as can hurricanes and cyclones along the coasts. Further north and inland, winter ice storms may bring down power lines.
Some areas are increasingly having to guard their infrastructure against multiple types of risk. The Louisiana tornado in late March 2022 serves as an example of expanding risk profiles, striking an area already known for dealing with hurricanes and related flooding.
Tornadoes, cyclones, hurricanes, tropical storms and other weather disasters can devastate communities, and power restoration is one of the most important priorities in any recovery effort. A lack of technology can lead to slower response times as crews struggle to determine where grid failures have occurred and dispatch crews to make repairs. This is where a modern OMS can make a positive impact.
Responding Quickly with an OMS
When conditions are at their worst, with extreme weather leading to power outages, having a digital OMS in place can help utilities coordinate their responses. These solutions help in several distinct ways, some affecting internal practices and others dealing with customer communications. The common thread is that when there's an OMS in place, everyone stays more informed.
Internal Communications Powered by OMS
Without a centralized digital system in place, it's difficult to isolate problems in a power grid and launch a targeted response. This issue is especially noticeable during storm conditions, when sending crews out to search for a fallen power line can expose those teams to dangerous conditions.
An OMS connected to smart grid infrastructure can deliver a clear picture of where outages are occurring. Office personnel can then pass the map of the outage on to field crews, helping linemen navigate directly to the source of the problem.
Replacing unclear radio communications with a direct exchange of information is a powerful OMS capability. Using an OMS tool that integrates directly with a geographic information system (GIS) allows utility providers to deliver a new level of clarity for all their internal teams.
Once linemen have completed a repair, office staff can send a ping to the affected infrastructure using the OMS to determine remotely whether service is back. This is another efficiency-building capability of OMS technology, and it can help crews move more quickly during disaster conditions, when time is at a premium.
Clear Customer Communications with IVR Integration
When it comes to keeping utility customers happy and satisfied, the most important thing an electricity provider can do is get the power back on in as little time as possible. That means an OMS, with its ability to power team communications and internally streamline restoration efforts, has a direct effect on the customer experience. That's not the only way in which OMS impacts the relationship between utility provider and customer, however.
By connecting an OMS with a modern interactive voice response (IVR) tool, electricity providers can deliver a clear and effective customer communications experience, powered by automation. During extreme weather, there are numerous reasons to call a utility provider — such as to report an outage or ask for a status update on service restoration.
Using an IVR allows callers to receive updates and log information automatically, with simple calls not requiring intervention from office staff. This leads to shorter wait times and reduced call volume for employees.
Integration between OMS and IVR allows users to have their outage reports mapped instantly for crews to investigate and address. OMS access also allows utility personnel to give more accurate reports about the status of grid infrastructure and when it might be back online.
An extreme weather event creates stress for everyone, residents and utility crews alike. An OMS can help the situation go more smoothly, clearing up the lines of communication during the crisis and beyond.