While every season brings its own hazards and risks for utility providers’ ability to bring consistent service to their customers, the winter can be especially harsh. The risks associated with winter weather, ice in particular, demand a high degree of forethought. Not only do cold conditions tend to bring a wave of service interruptions, efforts to repair the damage are also more dangerous when roads are icy or crews have to operate in below-freezing temperatures.
There is no way to exactly predict or fully prevent the outages that occur during winter, but utilities can and should take whatever steps they can to make their responses as quick and effective before cold weather rolls in again. This can mean making an impactful technology upgrade. Purchasing a new outage management system (OMS) is one way to change the way an organization deals with service restoration, and it can pay off whenever outage risk spikes.
The threat of winter outages
There are numerous ways utilities’ infrastructure can suffer damage during the colder months. The freezing rain that often accompanies winter storms can lead directly to grid failures that will leave large areas without power. That’s just what happened in February of 2019: The Associated Press reported that a spate of frozen rain in the Midwest, from Michigan to Kansas and Missouri, led to power outages affecting 50,000 people.
Freezing rain adhering to power lines can break them down, and repairing the damage may be hazardous. The AP noted that the icy highway conditions associated with the early 2019 storms were linked to two deadly crashes. These are the types of issues field teams will have to navigate as they make their way to downed lines and perform the necessary repairs.
As a North Carolina news source, Carolina Country, reported in 2018, the threat of winter storm power outages lasts beyond initial precipitation: In some cases, thawing ice on tree branches makes the limbs snap back into shape. That motion can bring trees and power lines together, causing outages even after the storm has passed. In the early 2018 incidents described by Carolina Country, 133,000 homes lost power and co-ops reported 20,600 members without electricity. The co-ops honored a mutual-aid agreement and shared linemen to restore power as quickly as possible.
The positive impact of a new OMS
Having the right technology in place behind the scenes is essential for utilities that want to ensure their outage responses are well coordinated and effective. A new OMS can make this difference. With an OMS, stakeholders can connect to smart grid systems that will help them pinpoint the location of a service interruption in real time. This is vital information when it’s time to send a crew for repairs. When personnel know exactly where to go, they can minimize the time spent searching for damaged infrastructure. This is a massive safety benefit when conditions outside are icy.
An OMS connected with smart grid technology is also valuable for the remote tasks it enables. For instance, a crew in the field can contact the office after making an effort to fix an element of the grid. The staff at headquarters can then send a ping to the repaired infrastructure to make sure it is actually functioning as intended. After verifying that power is flowing again, the linemen can mark the matter as resolved, accessing the work order remotely through the OMS features available on their mobile devices.
A modern OMS can also connect utilities with their customers. Connecting the OMS to interactive voice response (IVR) systems allows organizations to keep members informed about known outages in their area and can automatically field calls coming in to report issues. Turning these tasks over to automated solutions gives staff more time to work on other parts of the restoration efforts while still keeping the public informed of their progress via phone calls or text messages.
To find out how an advanced OMS can make your operations more resilient this winter and beyond, check out our customers’ success stories.