Back in October, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. reaffirmed its readiness for the next big storm. Since last fall, the company has enhanced vegetation trimming and removal on its rights-of-way and added advanced automation to reinforce the electric grid; revised its information sharing procedures with cities and towns; and installed web-based tools for improved two-way communication with customers.
Then Superstorm Sandy hit, and WMECo restored power to 52,000 customers within 48 hours of Hurricane Sandy ripping through its region and knocking out power.
“WMECo’s electric grid sustained significant damage during last fall’s nor’easter, with more than 140,000 customers losing power as a direct result of the storm,” said Peter Clarke, president of WMECo. “Though no utility can guarantee a storm free of outages, our efforts over the past year have made our transmission system less susceptible to tree damage and will allow us to more closely coordinate our restoration progress with communities and better communicate with customers.”
Reaching out to local emergency responders to discuss what worked well and what can be improved is an important part of WMECo’s post-storm assessment. During meetings with every community after last year's nor’easter, company representatives clearly understood the need for improved coordination and communication with first responders, as well as enhanced communication with customers. The company’s response has been swift and significant.
Community officials in the WMECo service area now have exclusive access to a web-based portal providing key information about the status of critical facilities within their respective cities and towns, as well as up-to-date outage and restoration information. Designated community liaisons and a real-time emergency reporting tool will further improve communication with local officials.
Customers, government officials and the media can now view an outage map on the WMECo website containing community-by-community outage information so they can keep up on the company’s progress in restoring outages. All customers, including smartphone users, can also report outages via the company website.
Along with improving information sharing, WMECo has also worked this year to reinforce the durability of its electric system in storm conditions. Although tree-related damage cannot be eliminated in catastrophic storms, the company has taken extra steps this year to trim and clear vegetation along rights-of-way. Crews have also installed additional lightning protection to safeguard the grid, and added more automation equipment on the system allowing for a quicker reduction in the number of customers affected by an outage.
A recent merger with Boston-based NSTAR now provides WMECo and other Northeast Utilities electric companies with direct access to additional line workers from other NU operating companies who, when available, can also assist in the local restoration effort.