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Storm of the Decade

Process changes prepare ComEd to recover quickly from disastrous storm and flood.

Fortnightly Magazine - April 2008

by a distribution dispatcher in the centralized operations control center (OCC). This ensures all work is conducted safely, and system configuration changes properly are recorded. However, during a large event like the August storm, the volume of work tickets and magnitude of radio communication into the OCC favors down-streaming some decision-making to a first-line supervisor.

Through the feeder-SPOC approach, a locked-out feeder is assigned to an experienced overhead crew supervisor knowledgeable in both system configuration control and the lock-out/tag-out procedure. The SPOC and assigned crews then make their way out from the feeder’s source at the substation. The SPOC is responsible for identifying and isolating all instances of main-stem trouble, directing all switching operations and the repair of damaged facilities, ensuring safe work zones, and managing the subsequent restoration of the main feeder stem. The SPOC also keeps the OCC dispatcher updated on configuration status and customer restoration progress.

This approach originated during the October 2006 storm. Jim Conway (then Southwest manager in construction and maintenance, now OCC director) oversaw several foreign contractors who worked hurricanes in Florida. They explained how Progress Energy takes a similar approach at the substation level. Although ComEd typically doesn’t lose entire substations in a storm, Conway thought the concept could apply at the feeder level, and coincidentally only a week before the August storm hit, he spoke with people at Progress Energy about their approach.

In the August storm, ComEd employed 25 feeder SPOCs overseeing about 100 crews. Foreign crews especially appreciated the tactic. Given their unfamiliarity with ComEd’s territory and system, they liked focusing on a single de-energized circuit underneath a local authority. From a customer perspective, it allowed the utility to restore the largest number of customers in the quickest, most resource-efficient manner.

After the Flood

To fully understand what worked and didn’t work, ComEd launched a thorough evaluation of emergency preparedness processes.

Typically, about 50 participants take part in a post-storm lessons-learned conference call. In this case, Emergency Response Managers Nichole Tillman and Bob Moyer led an effort that included 23 recognition breakfasts for line crews, at which frontline feedback was collected. Additionally, ComEd conducted dozens of interviews and team meetings, culminating in an all-day lessons-learned meeting involving more than 120 key stakeholders.

This effort produced a detailed understanding of what went well and, equally important, what new process changes could be incorporated into the 2008 training and drill plan. Some key lessons learned included the following:

Customer Interface and Communication: Overall, ComEd communicated well with the public, the media and municipal officials. The company also improved its system for communicating local ETRs (estimated time to restore) to customers. However, feedback indicated customers still expect even more detailed updates, potentially utilizing online options, which the company will examine.

Resource Management and Utilization: Despite streamlined communications from the feeder-SPOC approach, several crews reported delays reaching work dispatchers. Reducing communication delays will improve restoration work and efficient utilization of personnel. ComEd also is considering opportunities to further leverage staff from other groups.

Emergency Response Team Proficiency and Qualifications: Despite efforts to improve