Good Preparation, Excellent Execution: Hurricane Sandy

March 1, 2013
I'm not ashamed to admit I get a churning in the pit of my stomach when I see hurricanes forming in the Gulf. The closer a major storm approaches landfall,

I'm not ashamed to admit I get a churning in the pit of my stomach when I see hurricanes forming in the Gulf. The closer a major storm approaches landfall, the more I find myself repeating phrases like “Not again. Not this time. Turn out to sea. Weaken. Dissipate.”

When a hurricane hits land, it robs those of us in its path of our sense of security and replaces it with great discomfort and angst. Those of us impacted are forced to rebuild our homes, our businesses, our infrastructure and, sometimes, our very lives.

As much as I hate to see a storm brewing, when a major storm hits, I refuse to sit idly by. I have to get involved in some way, just as you probably do. It's what we — those of us who work in the electric utility industry — were bred for. We never feel more alive, more energized or more needed than when we are bringing back electricity, along with a sense of normalcy and security, to our customers.

The Ugliest of the Ugly

Speaking from experience, Sandy was the ugliest of the ugly. I flew up to personally experience and report on the rebuild efforts on Long Island and in Connecticut. When you are on the front line, your emotions swing wildly from a dull ache, to deep despair, to wild exhilaration and then back again. Too often, the emotions do not line up with the experiences; they are out of control, at least mine are.

When I got back from the front, I connected with executives at Con Ed, FirstEnergy and Public Service Electric & Gas. Each of these utilities also had personal stories to tell. Gene Wolf, T&D World's technical writer, and I then touched base with the many collaborating utilities, contractors, tree trimmers and vendors who moved Heaven and Earth — and then some — to get personnel and supplies to the front.

Those in the know cannot help but be impressed by the sheer numbers required to respond to an event like Sandy. The number of contract crews, vehicles, poles, transformers and the miles of wire boggle the mind. We are honored to share the stories of the individuals and teams who pulled together to bring power back to the Northeast.

Today, reflecting back on the Sandy rebuild, I can state the key to our successful rebuild was good preparation and excellent execution. A proper rebuild requires utilities to build and maintain relationships with other utilities, with contractors and with vendors. These relationships are gold in times of crisis. During the Sandy response, these partners responded with the same passion and vigor as the utilities themselves.

Because Superstorm Sandy was so massive, delivered record-high tides and unleashed mayhem in the most densely populated region of the United States, she also impacted our national psyche. We are now different, and our industry has been changed because of the mind-altering impact of this storm.

No More Storm Business as Usual

Legislators, regulators and customers showed their impatience and even rage when storm restoration efforts exceeded several weeks, even when taking into account the extent of the damage from this massive killer storm. Woe to the utility executive who cannot respond to the pace demanded by regulators and legislators.

We know in our gut we must respond ever more quickly when the next storm hits. We are taking action now. We are changing the dynamics of how we will prepare for and respond to superstorms:

  • We will design and build more robust, more resilient, more easily rebuilt power delivery systems.

  • We will improve our supply chain channels to gain even greater access to replacement poles, transformers, switchgear and hardware.

  • Our network will provide more operational flexibility during restoration so we can bypass damaged areas and reroute electricity.

  • We will collaborate nationally to standardize equipment so we can more easily obtain replacement parts.

  • We will install storm-hardened telecommunications systems.

  • We will operate more robust distribution management and outage management systems that can handle the increased information flow during crisis events.

  • We will provide network status updates in real time to utility workers, utility partners, regulators, legislators, the local media, and, most importantly, to our customers.

  • We will partner with city managers, state preparedness organizations, FEMA and other infrastructure organizations to accelerate storm response times for all services providers.

As utilities, we have plenty of reasons to invest in our power delivery system so that we can better respond to storms. The main reason is that it is the right thing to do. Status quo is not an option. We already have the technologies available to move rapidly and decisively build out a more flexible, more robust, more resilient, more easily rebuilt grid. And now, post-Sandy, we have the communal will to do so.

About the Author

Rick Bush | Editorial Director

Richard A. Bush is the editorial director of Transmission & Distribution World. Prior to joining T&D World as editor-in-chief in 1994, Bush worked at the Georgia Power Company Research Center (now NEETRAC) where he held engineering and management positions.

In June 1988, Bush received the Georgia Power "Engineer of the Year" award, and in 1994, he received the "Technology Applications Recognition" award from the Electric Power Research Institute. In 1996, he was awarded a Jesse H. Neal Certificate of Merit for editorial excellence.

Bush holds BSME and MSME degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and he is a senior member of the IEEE.

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