Linemen have responded to more frequent and intense storms in the Midwest over the last few years. Because of the nature of their jobs, they often work in extreme conditions for many days at a time, confront many dangers and attempt to work in a safe and efficient manner. Oftentimes, time and working conditions are not on their side, and the customers want electricity restored as quickly as possible.

A company's response to a crisis is what customers often see and remember. It's the utility's job to balance needs and wants to get the electricity flowing. At Kansas City Power & Light, the utility demonstrated its commitment to safety and power reliability by earning the Edison Electric Institute Emergency Assistance Award for assistance during restoration activities. The utility won the award both in 2007 and 2008 by focusing on improving its emergency response program (see Emergency Response Improvements sidebar).

Responding to emergency situations in a service territory of almost 18,000 sq miles creates many challenges. Overcoming them is a journey of continuous improvement. Regardless of whether the situations are man-made, natural or technological, responding quickly, decisively and communicating frequently are keys to success.

As the second-largest investor-owned utility in Missouri, KCP&L serves more than 800,000 electric customers covering 47 counties in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. The customers are served by 26,000 pole miles of distribution, 2,500 poles miles of transmission and 392 substations.

Customer Priorities

KCP&L's emergency response program is based on four priorities:

  1. Public safety

    The de-energizing, cutting down or securing of live distribution lines that pose an immediate threat to public safety.

  2. Critical infrastructure

    Restoration of service to sensitive public service facilities such as hospitals, city halls, county court houses, fire alarm system headquarters, water pumping stations, sewer lift stations, fire stations, police stations and air traffic control centers.

  3. Circuit backbones

    Restoration to the maximum number of customers in the minimum amount of time with available work forces. This involves re-energizing circuit backbones, which are the main source of power.

  4. Whole neighborhoods

    Restoration of service to whole neighborhoods after the initial effort to re-energize the circuit backbone. Source facilities must be restored first. After the source facilities are restored, the services are restored in conjunction with all the laterals connected to the circuit backbone. When all primaries in an area are totally restored, no customer should be left without service in that area. However, service that cannot be restored because of damage to the customer's service equipment should be reported to the center manager.

Centralized Versus Decentralized Work Force

Depending on the severity of the emergency, field personnel from outside the immediate company's work force may be needed. After an ice storm in 2002 blasted the Midwest, KCP&L needed the assistance of almost 450 outside electrical and 314 line clearance crews from 16 states. The decision to keep the work force centralized or decentralized usually comes after an initial assessment is conducted.

In a centralized approach, KCP&L crews are dispatched normally. Dispatching manages the workload and crews. In a decentralized approach, additional manpower from other utilities and contractors is brought in for the restoration.

The KCP&L work force is managed by dispatching, and the external work force is managed by a backup dispatch center. Work is sent out to the service centers, by circuit, for the foreign crews. The center leadership becomes the control authority over the circuits assigned. As the work is completed, job tickets are closed in the system. This decentralized approach limits the span of control by either dispatching or the backup group, improves safety for the crews in the field, and updates the outage management and the outage reporting systems faster, improving the accuracy of the information provided to the customers.

Building Relationships

Communicating regularly with city, county and state emergency managers starts well before any emergency happens. KCP&L has taken a more proactive approach by routinely meeting with local emergency managers in an effort to build relationships. Learning the needs of community teams before a storm and giving them a peek “behind the curtain” of how a utility restores power builds a certain level of trust. Part of the company's philosophy is to conduct joint exercises and work out any issues in a relaxed atmosphere.

Functional exercises have been conducted twice in the last two years. The first was between the Emergency Operating Centers (EOCs) of the city of Kansas City, Missouri, and KCP&L. The second exercise included Johnson County Emergency Management, cities of Olathe and Overland Park, Kansas, and WaterOne, a local water utility in southern Johnson County, Kansas. Both drills tested communication, EOC operation and emergency plans. After Action Reviews (AAR) were conducted after both exercises and follow-up meetings are ongoing.

Public Affairs also developed a communication philosophy that puts them in the field with the customers in need. When a moderate to major natural disaster occurs in KCP&L's territory, this team offers basic services within the affected areas. This support is for storm-related outages, heat waves and flooding. KCP&L's Mobile Command Center relocates to the affected area and is used as a base for this effort.

Success Strategies

Utilities realize that no two storms are alike; each is different but the lessons learned from each event should be used to improve future responses to emergencies. KCP&L's Storm Evaluation and Response Plan (SERP) employs quick intelligence gathering and communication as keys to its success. SERP has been fully implemented four times since the plan was drafted in 1983 and partially implemented many times. After each event, an AAR is completed and any ideas generated are reviewed for inclusion in a future revision of the plan.

The information gathered during the AAR meetings can be as simple as changing a form used during an event, to totally revamping the process. For example, SERP called for information on fuse closings to be sent in twice a day. This didn't keep the OMS updated fast enough. KCP&L implemented a new process for calling in fuse closings. Now fuses that get closed in during the restoration are called in immediately to the backup dispatch center, which allows the OMS to be updated much more quickly. This was a minor process addition to SERP, but it allowed the customers to get better, more-accurate information to assist in their decision making.

KCP&L prides itself on its restoration plan and past efforts at restoring power safely and efficiently. However, past success does not guarantee future success. When Mother Nature decides it's time for a rematch, KCP&L's management and field employees will be ready to do what they do best, despite the conditions.


Les Boatright, (les.boatright@kcpl.com) CEM, is the emergency response manager for KCP&L.

Emergency Response Improvements

In the past two years, KCP&L has made several changes to its emergency response plan, based in part from management and field employee feedback.

Communication

  • Proactive, consistent and timely communication to stakeholder groups (employees, media relations, government affairs, local emergency management directors and community leaders)
  • Emergency Support Program
    • On-site distribution of food, water and ice
    • On-site electrical safety communications
    • On-site outage information
    • Strengthen company relations with customers
    • Increase employee engagement with communities served
  • Customer Care
    • Outbound calling to all target customers
    • Partner with Red Cross, COAD, etc.
    • Provides critical information to Customer Call Center
  • Emergency Management
    • Attend local emergency management/Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meetings
    • Partner with state emergency management agencies
    • Participate in state, regional and community exercises
    • Program expanded to include both metro and rural service territory
    • Use of a helicopter to patrol 34-kV lines speeds situation assessment

Contingency Planning

  • Reception, Staging and Integration
    • Pre-arranged contracts with hotels and restaurants
    • Locates additional contractors and foreign utility workers during an emergency
    • Housing needs shifted to reduce windshield time
    • Internal crew movement reduces need for contractor/ foreign crews
  • Mutual Assistance
    • Founding member of the Midwest Mutual Assistance Group (MMAG)
    • KCP&L awarded EEI's Emergency Assistance Award in 2007 and 2008

Training

  • Joint functional exercises with community partners
  • Internal Training
    • eLearning modules provided online
    • Tabletop exercises for management and field employees, facilitated by Cubic Applications Inc., a defense contractor in Leavenworth, Kansas.
    • Small group discussions designed for specific roles and responsibilities

Safety

  • Wire down team staffed with safety personnel making situations safe until crew arrives
  • Reduces crew down time by identifying downed power lines versus cable TV and phone
  • Conducts daily safety briefings for foreign crews
  • Representative in Emergency Operations Center during event

System Improvements

  • Outage Management System
    • Remote Verification Alert callbacks implanted
    • Hardware upgrade
    • Oracle DataGuard implemented as a failover strategy
    • PowerWatch map on Internet improvements (www.kcpl.com)

Post Assessments

  • Conduct timely internal After Action Report (AAR) for program and work improvements from management and field personnel
  • Invite feedback from community partners on response and recovery activities
  • Share AAR feedback with everyone; there's nothing to hide and everything to gain from open, honest communication
  • Include all groups involved in restoration not just operations personnel