NYSEG crews enroute to Central Maine Power to provide assistance.
Automated crew management is a game changer for the utility industry. Mobilizing and tracking crews efficiently, capturing crew staffing and the time crews worked, and playing it back after a storm has passed — this is all data Iberdrola USA is collecting to better gauge restoration costs and address information requests from executive management and regulators.
Last fall, Central Maine Power Co., New York State Electric & Gas and Rochester Gas & Electric began automating their crew-management processes. These utilities, which are part of Iberdrola USA, put in place Web-based software to give storm managers and others access to a computer-generated board for visually organizing and mobilizing crews required during large power-restoration events. The new automated system supports real-time distributed updating of crews by field supervisors and dispatchers, and tracks crew status, including contractors across each operating utility’s service territory.
Talk of automating the crew-management process began as early as 2011. In the beginning, the goal was to manage storms better. However, Iberdrola USA quickly realized a utility will never be successful with a system during a storm if the technology is not used day to day.
State of Practice
Before automating this process, mobilizing and deploying crews for power restoration and reporting on their status was largely a manual process that required significant time and effort to assemble and collate information from numerous sites. Even on blue-sky days, tracking crew assignments and work status requires the application of complex workplace rules for a real-time picture of work. Often, the centerpiece for assembling and reporting on blue-sky days as well as storm-crew resources is a spreadsheet, a whiteboard (rather, typically dozens of whiteboards spread across multiple service centers) or, in rare cases, a homegrown storm-management system.
The homegrown software system in place at Central Maine Power was not a Web-based application. It could not easily generate reports, for example, about the tree-trimming and line resources on a property. The homegrown system could not display the number of linemen working at a local level, let alone on an individual circuit. The best the system offered was a view of in which divisions crews were working.
At Iberdrola’s operating utilities in New York, groups of supervisors manually pieced together crews at local service centers and handed this data over to dispatchers to match it to their daily reporting location and availability for work. At times, keeping count of crews could take more than 500 spreadsheets. Whether in Maine or New York, providing crew deployment reports to regulators and executives during a major event was a significant burden for personnel engaged in managing the storm-restoration effort.