Although the vast majority of equipment failures and accidents involving electric power distribution do not result in litigation, a forensic investigation approach can provide a systematic means to improve reliability and can also put the utility in a more solid position to handle incidents where litigation could arise. In "The Fundamentals of Forensic Investigation Procedures Guidebook," published by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the authors outline the fundamental techniques for conducting a forensic investigation.

The opportunity to effectively investigate an incident vanishes quickly and accurate results of an incident investigation are always beneficial to understanding how to improve reliability. The guidebook is designed to assist power companies in incorporating forensic methods into their existing incident response and investigation procedures, and in training personnel to use them effectively. Suggested forensic procedures, forms, and checklists are included. The materials will guide the company through an enhanced root-cause analysis of the incident from the first response through site documentation, evidence collection, analysis, root cause determination, recommendations, reports, and presentations.

Harry Ng, Manager of Distribution systems at EPRI, says, "As utilities continue to reduce headcount due to financial pressure, the knowledge of how to identify the cause of a failure or accident is being lost and it takes an individual many years to learn how to conduct an accident investigation. Any individual who follows the procedures in the guidebook will be more likely to conduct a defensible investigation. Even though most investigations will not end up in court, the information uncovered in the investigation is better able to withstand legal challenge if conducted properly."

The forensic process follows a logical order beginning with the following steps:

  • Obtain initial information and facts

  • Prepare investigation response

  • Coordinate with restoration

  • Document site conditions and observations

An EPRI advisory committee and experienced utility forensic engineers held a series of reviews to ensure the material's technical accuracy and usefulness.

To obtain a copy of the report, "The Fundamentals of Forensic Investigation Procedures Guidebook," (1001890), contact EPRI's Customer Assistance Center at (800) 313-3774, or askepri@epri.com.