A powerful windstorm swept across Vermont in April 2007. It did more damage to Central Vermont Public Service's system than any storm in the utility's history. But, Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS; Rutland, Vermont, U.S.) was ready for it, thanks to advance warning from a local contracted weather forecaster. And, when calls started pouring in from some of the 67,000 CVPS customers left without power, the utility was ready for that, too, thanks to an automated outage management system (OMS) implemented by Intergraph Corp. (Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.).

The restoration effort proved to be the largest in CVPS's history. With guidance from the OMS and assistance from 105 outside line crews, CVPS was able to restore power to 50% of the customers less than 48 hours after the storm and to all customers within five days. The utility estimates that without the OMS the average outage duration would probably have been twice as long, and CVPS would have incurred at least US$1 million in additional expenditure on outside crews.

A TRADITION OF TECHNOLOGY

CVPS supplies electricity to 158,000 residential and commercial customers in 152 communities spread throughout the Green Mountain state. Although the majority of its meters are located in the southern two-thirds of the state, pockets of additional customers reside in the northern area close to the Canadian border, effectively making the entire state part of the utility's service territory.

CVPS may be considered small in terms of total meters served, but the utility has always taken pride in staying at the forefront of automation and information technologies. In 1997, it implemented the Intergraph FRAMME package as its facilities management system to maintain a digital connectivity model of the entire distribution network. After a decade of successful service, CVPS is currently upgrading this system.

In addition, the CVPS T&D Operations and Engineering Group spearheaded development of a homegrown work management system (WMS) in 1996 to oversee design, scheduling, construction, and posting of all distribution maintenance and capital work. As work is completed by the field, data/facility management technicians (DTs) input detailed utility equipment and facilities data into the WMS. Information relating to these equipment repairs and installations is transmitted weekly from the WMS to the facilities connectivity model via an interface. The utility also maintains a customer information system (CIS), which interfaces with the facilities management and work management systems, as well as the OMS.

In 1999, CVPS became an early adopter of automated outage management technology when it implemented Intergraph's InService OMS package. InService integrated directly with the utility's existing facilities management system to provide real-time analysis of conditions across the distribution network. This allows the Resource Scheduling Group to optimize network usage during normal operations and to trace faults back to their source during outage events.

READY FOR THE STORM

In April 2007, CVPS knew from weather reports that one of New England's famous nor'easters was heading toward Vermont. The local weather forecaster predicted 70-mph (113-kmph) winds in the CVPS territory. This advance warning gave the utility nearly four days to make sure all of its 45 line crews were on call and to notify mutual-aid utilities as far away as Connecticut and Ontario, Canada, that CVPS might need outside help to recover from the damage that was sure to come.

Ninety percent of Vermont's bad weather comes from the west, but this nor'easter blew in from the opposite direction. Trees are not accustomed to high wind speeds and heavy loadings from this direction. As a result, CVPS anticipated extensive outages from power lines downed by fallen trees.

The storm lived up to expectations and even threw in a few microbursts to keep things interesting. After an intense four or five hours, the nor'easter passed, and the CVPS service territory recorded power outages to more than one-third of its customer base, caused by 2000 instances of downed lines, broken poles, and damaged distribution and transmission equipment. The only good thing about the storm was that it ended quickly without lingering weather disturbances, allowing CVPS to begin restoration immediately.

INTO THE RESPONSE

During and after the storm, customers called the utility to report outages in their areas. An interactive voice-response (IVR) system gave them the option of talking to a customer care advocate (CCA) or simply choosing “power outage” from a recorded menu selection. The IVR fed the outage reports into the CIS, which was also being directly accessed by the CCAs, who collected outage details.

The CIS database identified each customer by name or phone number and searched its files to link that caller's meter location with the appropriate electric line and pole. This line and pole identification, along with specific outage causes noted by call takers, was passed directly from the CIS to the OMS for processing.

Based on the flood of incoming calls, the OMS continually ran fault traces on the network connectivity models to narrow each outage down to a specific line segment, line, fuse, transformer or substation. The OMS collected a large volume of data in a hurry and showed CVPS the scale of its problem.

The OMS gets the utility to where it can send a crew to the right location. The utility has a centralized dispatch room in Rutland with up to 16 workstations active during a storm like the 2007 event. Each dispatch workstation has access to the digital OMS map display, which shows the facilities network overlaid on a transportation grid.

The OMS automatically placed icons to denote the locations of outage calls and their possible sources. By clicking on the screen, the dispatcher could cross reference a specific problem with a street address, which was then radioed to a line crew. Countless hours were saved during the restoration efforts because we were able to send crews directly to the locations of downed lines or damaged equipment, enabling faster service restorations.

With nearly 2000 individual incidents of damage to the CVPS transmission and distribution facilities, the utility took advantage of another powerful OMS capability — outage prioritization. The system provided dispatchers with the information they needed to priortize the problems. Specifically, the OMS could be queried to determine how many downstream customers were impacted by each problem. Those causing the greatest numbers of customer outages were the first to have crews dispatched to the scene.

THE OMS ADVANTAGE

The OMS gives the utility the ability to manage crews more closely and apply them where they are needed the most. Looking back on the storm several months later, the OMS may have earned its keep in those first few minutes after the winds died down. By getting an immediate estimation of the total extent of outages, the utility was able to determine how long the repair work would take and how many crews would be activated.

Also, outside crews are expensive. You start paying for them the minute they leave their garage. A utility doesn't want to over-respond because it just drives up costs, and the OMS allowed us to base decisions on clear analysis, which was proven.

CVPS estimates that without the ability to accurately quantify the number of outages, prioritize responses and send crews to precise trouble-spot locations, it may have taken them 10 days instead of five to restore service to the entire service territory. The cost of keeping more than 100 outside crews in the territory for an additional five days could have exceeded $3.5 million.

One of the often-overlooked benefits of automated outage management is the ability to maintain statistics over periods of time and repeated outage events. Following the nor'easter and other storms, CVPS reviews statistics to see where points of weakness exist in its network. This enables the utility to better allocate maintenance resources to address problems that have caused multiple outages. By capturing the data accurately, CVPS is able to get the best bang for its buck for planned maintenance.

Improved customer service is another distinct advantage of the CVPS OMS, although it's difficult to quantify a dollar value. CVPS has created a small application that takes outage numbers by area and posts the information on an internal website every 15 minutes. Accessible by customer service representatives, this helps them to paint a picture of the scope of the storm and allows the CCAs to tell customers when they might expect their power to be restored.

LOOKING FORWARD

CVPS plans to maintain its technological edge with several ongoing and planned implementations. Now underway, the upgrade from FRAMME to Intergraph's new G/Technology will integrate engineering and operations support functions in a manner that will allow the utility to maintain a more accurate and up-to-date network connectivity model. And because the OMS makes its fault identification inferences based on the network model, this upgrade will result in more accurate pinpointing of trouble sources and a better estimation of outage extents.

Within the next year, CVPS hopes to begin overhauling its voice radio network to support the transmission of data. The new wireless system will include GPS-based automatic vehicle location (AVL) equipment. With AVL capabilities already built into InService for mobile workforce management applications, CVPS will then have the ability to see the location and status of vehicles on the map interface so that the closest available crew can be dispatched to an outage.

In addition, CVPS is currently working on interfacing its IVR system with InService. The plan calls for having outage restoration information flow from the OMS to the IVR. When a customer calls in to report an outage, the IVR will provide a recorded message to let the caller know if a crew has been dispatched, the number of customers affected by their particular outage and when to expect their power to be restored.

Van Purcell joined CVPS in 1986 after several years with consulting firms as a project manager on telephone, cable TV and electrical construction projects. At CVPS, he initially served as the joint lines coordinator and is currently manager of the Business Development & Technology team. While at CVPS, Purcell has headed the business team charged with the initial automation of the facility records system, and worked on the team that developed and implemented the work management system and the FRAMME system. He was also project lead for delivery of the outage management system. vpurcel@cvps.com

CENTRAL VERMONT PUBLIC SERVICE RECEIVES HONORS

Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS; Rutland, Vermont, U.S.) received regional and national honors for its April storm response. The local Chamber of Commerce named CVPS employees Business People of the Year in part for the storm, and the Vermont House of Representatives issued a resolution lauding the company's efforts.

“We normally name one business leader the Business Person of the Year, but CVPS's employees stood out in the face of disaster for their commitment to our community and for their reliability and customer service,” explained Tom Donahue, the chamber's executive vice president and CEO.

The award was presented to employees from across the company, including Joe Kraus, vice president; Mike Carlson, resource scheduler; Lisa Garrow, customer care advocate; Bob Godbout, substation maintenance and construction foreman; Scott Massie, scheduling manager; Hope Rogers, process administrator; Steve Solari, chief line worker; John teRiele, director of transmission and distribution operations; and Greg White, director of engineering.

In January, the Edison Electric Institute presented CVPS with the 2007 Emergency Recovery Award. “The company responded to unprecedented damage to its system by more than doubling its workforce overnight and effectively deploying those workers so that the power was back on as quickly as possible, with no injuries to workers or the public,” said EEI President Thomas R. Kuhn. “CVPS's effort in the face of this devastating storm offers a terrific example of a company bringing all of its resources to bear in order to get the lights back on.”

The April storm knocked out power to 67,000, or 42%, of CVPS's customers. CVPS brought in more than 200 outside line workers to assist the company's 90 line workers, and hundreds of CVPS accountants, lawyers and other employees took on support roles. Repair costs totaled $4.2 million.

The EEI Emergency Recovery Award is presented annually. Criteria include the ability to respond swiftly and efficiently, overcome difficult circumstances, use unique or innovative techniques, communicate effectively with customers, and restore service promptly. A panel of judges selected CVPS following an international nomination process.