Vermont utility uses software program to manage its emergency crews in the field.
Winds in excess of 75 miles per hour ripped down 50 poles in Vermont, knocking out power to 32,000 customers. Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) quickly responded to the early December event by assembling field crews and calling upon 45 outside line contract crews.
A few years ago, the utility would have managed this storm with Excel spreadsheets and white boards. Two years ago, however, the company invested in the Resources on Demand software from Macrosoft. Utilities nationwide are using the Web browser-based multi-user tool to manage crews, other storm personnel, equipment, lodging, logistic support and the associated costs.
By using this software, CVPS is able to streamline its logistics significantly. Now when a severe storm hits the region, the utility knows exactly what resources it has in which areas. In addition, the company can ensure that the field crews all have meals to eat and lodging when they're working out-of-town on extended restoration efforts.
Allocating Proper Resources
The company purchased the program in the fall of 2008 and has been using it for the last two years. One reason why the utility invested in the software is to improve its ability to manage its resources on a companywide level.
Like other companies, CVPS follows the Federal Emergency Management Association's National Incident Management System and manages a logistics sector. The utility also coordinates its crews through its regional operations center. Unlike other utilities, however, CVPS coordinates the majority of its resources for a storm from one central location.
The company has a resource coordinator who comes in prior to a storm to schedule all of the field crews. When the storm hits, this person is responsible for loading all of the pertinent information into the program. The coordinator then builds teams and assigns them to certain geographical areas.
CVPS creates teams for line workers, assessment and support functions, as well as the resources in the regional offices. The goal for the company is to have the system represent what is in any of its service centers, and the entire model is put into the system.
The system includes the name, location and job function for each individual worker who is assigned to respond to a storm or other emergency event. The software lists the job class for each of the workers from an apprentice to a journeyman lineman. By looking at these resources within the system,CVPS can quickly get an overview of its field workforce and their associated job types, from traffic control to field guides.
When the utility knows about a pending storm prior to it hitting the region, the company activates resources prior to the event. Often, however, the company builds teams and resources, and allocates them to the affected area in the initial stages of the storm.
Locking Down Adequate Lodging
Once the teams are assembled and dispatched to the proper regions, the utility arranges lodging for the field crews. The first step is looking at all of the resources and determining whether they need lodging. Using Resource on Demand's lodging module, CVPS can manage its entire lodging function within the system.
The company maintains a list of hotels, and when a storm hits, the utility books rooms for the field crews and assigns the workers to the hotel rooms. CVPS then communicates this list back to its crews in the field so they know where they are going to sleep that night. This list includes the name and location of the hotel, the cost of each room, the contact information for the crew and the contact for the hotel. In some cases, CVPS even assigns specific room numbers to its crew, but often the hotels prefer to give the linemen this information once they reach the hotel property.
CVPS records data such as vehicle information and cell phone numbers for the field crews. In addition, the company knows who is working together at all times, which makes it easier to book adequate lodging for the teams at the end of the work day.
Each one of the operating centers has a list of available hotels, so the crews don't need to call around to different lodging properties to find rooms during storm restoration efforts. In addition, CVPS is now able to make a more accurate count on hotel rooms. In the past, the company sometimes booked rooms that weren't used, and the company lost money as a result.
Feeding Field Crews
By getting an accurate head count of the field crews working on the storms, CVPS can also pinpoint exactly how many meals it needs to provide to the workers in the field.
Because of the size of the company, CVPS doesn't work with a catering company in each region since some of its service centers only have between four and 15 line workers. In the case of a severe storm, however, CVPS often brings in other work crews and needs to ensure that all the linemen are properly fed.
CVPS, which serves 160,000 customers and has about 100 line workers, recently ramped up its ability to provide meals to the crews in the field. Before going to work each day, the linemen drop by the service center to pick up their lunches. This has ensured that the crews are able to keep working during the short days. In the winter in Vermont, it is only light from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., so it's essential for the crews to have the ability to keep working in the daylight.
Resources on Demand not only helps CVPS manage individual storms, but it also gives the company historical data on who worked when, what kind of resources they had and how long they were assigned to a particular area. The big key is understanding what resources are available, including line workers, and where they are located. This helps the company get organized, plan ahead and make sure it has the adequate resources where needed.
By investing in the software program, the utility is able to quickly assemble and dispatch its field crews in the event of an emergency. Rather than tracking the crews through multiple programs, the company can instead retain all of the information in one central location. When a storm hits Vermont, CVPS crews are then ready to spring into action to repair damage and restore power.
Scott Massie (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the manager of central scheduling for Central Vermont Public Service in Rutland, Vermont. He has been with the company for 23 years. He worked as a lineman for 10 years, and over the last decade, he has served as the company's emergency response manager on storm restoration efforts.
Central Vermont Public Service www.cvps.com
National Incident Management System http://home.fema.gov/emergency/nims
Utilities to Share Storm Information Nationwide
Central Vermont Public Service is not only managing its resources for storm restoration efforts electronically, but soon it will also access a portal called OutageCentral.com. This website, which was also developed by Macrosoft, is designed to help utilities' emergency resource personnel obtain comprehensive outage links, severe weather alerts and outage news.
The free website, which launched in early December, is a national electric outage tracking system that pulls together bits of information from areas nationwide. The site provides real-time maps and outage data to allow users to quickly and easily find outage information in geographic areas of interest.
Emergency personnel can track information about the strength and the direction of a storm that is threatening another part of the country. In addition, they can quickly find out what kind of damage it has already caused in other regions.
This information gives storm responders a jump on restoration planning and actual restoration, according to Macrosoft. By using this information, emergency responders can compile useful information and then layer it into their planning process.
To find information, users need to click on a state and then select a utility from the list. They can then find out the number of outages on a utility's system, the location of the outages, weather alerts and news.
The website, which was developed to complement Macrosoft's Resources on Demand, gives utilities the information they need to make decisions during storm response.
Scott Massie of CVPS said the website will be useful in the winter months ahead. “By viewing outage information across the country, it will be helpful to find out what is going on elsewhere and what key weather events are happening,” Massie said.