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Storm of the Decade

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

Fortnightly Magazine - April 2008

works to correct these issues, the change has resulted in a significant drop in CAIDI during storm situations, in which minutes can mean everything. This has cut the average storm restoration time by about two hours and has improved how the company is perceived by customers and public officials (see sidebar, “Silver Lining: Customer Communications.”)

These weren’t the sole changes implemented in this period. For example, at the lineman level, ComEd established a “tiered staffing” approach to prepare proportionately for different weather situations. Instead of putting a large proportion of frontline employees on call for every approaching storm, the company now reserves “all hands” callouts for only the most serious weather events. This reduces “cry wolf” fatigue, while increasing the overall response rate to both large and small events.

In addition to the procedural changes instituted during the 2003 to 2005 period, ComEd took advantage of lessons learned from an October 2006 storm that left 481,000 customers without service. Given the even more powerful storm that would hit less than a year later, the importance of the October event cannot be overemphasized. ComEd hadn’t had an event affecting a half million customers in about 10 years. The inevitable result was a loss of institutional memory. People retired, left the organization or simply forgot how to best handle a storm of that scale.

In many ways, the October 2006 storm provided ComEd the best training possible for the August 2007 storm, allowing the company to test its people and processes, and develop corrective actions in ways that no drill ever could. This test paid off in August 2007, when ComEd was able to restore power to 150,000 more customers than were affected a year earlier—and to do it in five days instead of six.

During the October 2006 “lessons- learned” effort, one immediate finding was the need to better manage outside crews. ComEd hosted about 130 foreign crews in 2006, at nearly two times their normal salary. To control costs, it’s important to ensure those crews devote as much time as possible to patrolling lines, fixing poles, and restoring service.

What ComEd learned was foreign crews spent more time off-task than preferred. This included waiting to receive work pouches and extra time driving long distances to work sites. In some cases, duplicate work assignments were made, with ComEd and foreign crews showing up at the same location.

Building on these lessons, ComEd’s management of foreign crews improved significantly in August 2007. The company hosted about 275 outside crews from as far away as New York and Houston. Despite more than doubling the number of foreign crews compared to 2006, they were deployed in a far more productive way.

Deploying Forces

The August 2007 storm front hit on a Thursday night. Within three hours, ComEd personnel made the first requests for mutual assistance. The first foreign crews arrived Friday, and all were in the territory by Saturday, providing far more resources, more quickly than in previous large storms. By comparison, during the October 2006 storm, the company requested mutual assistance on the second day.