The Science of Outage Restoration

Oct. 1, 2012
More than 150 functions can be delineated to score a utility's maturity in the entirety of outage restoration practice.

Not only is “Be Prepared” the Boy Scouts of America motto, it also is the credo of every utility emergency manager in the world. Utility managers clearly understand the correlation between emergency preparedness and effective response. Electric utilities in the United States face ever-increasing pressure from customers, regulatory agencies and municipal leaders to improve restoration performance. Can this be done by simply improving preparation practices? Can more be done to ensure a utility's response to a severe weather event or other natural disaster is as effective as possible?

While restoration performance has improved markedly over the years, new challenges continue to arise. The U.S. utility industry is not isolated from the economic challenges faced by the country, which has led to cost constraints for many. Other external challenges include rate freezes, increasing customer expectations, a new era of cyber threats and vulnerabilities, increasing regulatory reporting requirements, credentialing and access requirements, continuously evolving emergency planning standards and integration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Incident Command System. Many utilities also are finding their restoration progress is more transparent to customers and regulators as the industry trend toward publishing outage location maps on the Internet is becoming widely accepted.

A group of emergency response managers and consultants in the electric utility industry recently collaborated to generate a comprehensive listing that defines the myriad tasks necessary for a well-planned, well-documented and effective outage restoration effort. The resulting list was then compiled into the Outage Restoration Maturity Model (ORMM), a codification of the science behind proven utility industry success stories. The ORMM not only identifies core outage management functions but also the overall outage restoration functions vital for continued success. The model establishes a vocabulary of definitions and characteristics needed to measure the maturity level of a utility, and then uses a simple summation to compute the utility's maturity level rating. Using this model as a tool, utilities can benchmark their internal outage restoration maturity and also compare their current state to industry best practices.

Drills and Reporting Requirements

It is commonly assumed having a documented emergency plan for outage restoration is sufficient to stay prepared. However, when an event occurs, it quickly becomes evident that few people recall the contents of the plan and procedures, and some may have become outdated. As many emergency managers realize, to be fully prepared, utilities must not only have a documented plan but also practice or drill the plan on a frequent basis.

Practicing a plan accomplishes several things. First, it refreshes employees on the use of the plan as a team and ensures everyone is familiar with the emergency roles and responsibilities. Second, it exposes improvements needed in the processes and procedures. Lastly, it helps validate the adherence to requirements set by local, state and federal regulations. Recognizing such benefits, many regulatory agencies currently require utilities to file an emergency plan with their offices, and they often suggest or require at least one drill per year.

Following major events, many state regulatory agencies require utilities to file critiques or after-action reports. These reports are designed to encourage utilities to assess their performance and look for ways to improve preparation and practices that would improve response to future events. Although drills and critiques are not required in all states, utilities must be prepared for the eventuality that all state regulatory agencies will expect utilities to prove and document they provided the best possible restoration effort in response to a major event.

Management vs. Restoration Management

It is easy to confuse the concept of outage management with outage restoration management, which refer to different functions entirely. Outage management comprises the core and analytical functions associated with locating faults, prioritizing outage causes and directing field crews to restore outages. Most utilities use modern outage management systems, which employ sophisticated digital models of electric networks to predict fault locations, track crew assignments, and communicate restoration information to internal and external customers. These outage management systems serve as tools for dispatchers to manage outage locations and crews during outage events.

Outage restoration management differs from outage management in that it includes the broader set of strategic and management functions necessary to prepare for and manage the actual emergency event. These management functions include activation, restoration strategy, collaboration with government agencies, coordination of emergency support personnel, acquisition of mutual aid, optimization of resources, cost tracking, internal and external communication, customer satisfaction, regulatory reporting and adherence to best practices such as the Incident Command System. As such, outage management becomes a critical component of the broader practice of outage restoration management.

Maturity Level

Maturity level is an indicator of how well an organization has defined its processes and associated tasks for execution and documentation. It is only an indication of the capability to perform. Maturity level does not guarantee outcomes for a particular event but provides overall assessment and assurance. The maturity model only helps to identify and assess the process areas of relevance to the utility.

The outcomes of the restoration effort may be good or not, depending on several other contributing factors. Maturity level also is not a performance metric, or score, to assess a utility's response to a specific event. Rather, it is an indicator of the capability of a utility to perform well when faced with an event.


Using the ORMM, overall scores will fall into one of three main levels:

  • Defined

  • Managed

  • The Science of ORMM


Benefits of ORMM

A utility assessed with a score of 150 or less is considered “defined,” meaning it has the baseline capability and key processes are generally understood and followed. A utility that scores between 151 and 300 is considered to be in the “managed” state, meaning leadership and management are vested in process adherence and ensure consensus about the success criteria. A utility with a score above 300 has “optimized” some of its processes with a deliberate approach to collect, analyze and improve metrics. The response provided by optimized utilities is generally effective, consistent and well documented.

However, a utility with an outage restoration maturity level of 250 could quite possibly restore power more quickly, safely and cost effectively than another utility with a maturity level of 400. While the utility with the higher maturity level has a greater capability to perform well, many other factors can affect the eventual outcome once each utility is faced with actually responding to a particular event.

Poised for Excellence

When outage restoration management is practiced as an art (highly subjective and open to interpretation), it can lead to ambiguity among stakeholders and the inability of a utility to consistently document and review its performance. When outage restoration management is practiced instead as a science, it will have well-defined functions, task sequences and boundaries that promote objectivity and consistency. A model such as ORMM provides an approach based on methodical assessment and continuous improvement.

ORMM provides an opportunity for a utility to measure its current state of maturity, or outage restoration capability, and determine a goal for improved maturity that is feasible and sustainable. It increases the clarity and common understanding of the process areas, and it clearly defines the tasks needed to effectively engage all personnel as a team and document the restoration effort.

Evaluating outage restoration maturity enables a utility to define and measure preparedness in objective terms. It also identifies opportunities for planning improvements to further the effectiveness of response and documentation of restoration efforts.

The ORMM was developed by and for emergency managers at utilities. It may change over time as industry feedback is incorporated into the model. However, the model is currently used at several utilities nationwide, providing the utilities with an objective and consistent way to measure outage restoration maturity — the capability of the utilities to accomplish a superior restoration effort. The model encourages continuous improvement, as focus areas with lower scores can be addressed by implementing new procedures and practices, or improving one or more key functions within existing processes.

By using this model as a tool and constantly striving for higher maturity scores, utility managers can increase their utilities' capability to deliver an effective restoration response. Thus, they will not only be prepared but also poised for excellence when faced with the next emergency event.

M. Martin Lopez ([email protected]) is the manager, distribution operations at El Paso Electric. He is an electrical engineer with a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University and a MBA degree from the University of Texas at El Paso. Lopez has been working in the electric utility industry for 23 years in various departments including distribution, standards, substation, dispatch and engineering while at Southwestern Public Service, El Paso Electric and Progress Energy.

John Shaner ([email protected]) is the emergency management manager NERC at PHI Service Co., where he is currently responsible for preparedness initiatives and managing outage restoration efforts. He has more than 37 years of utility experience working at Allegheny Power in managed preparedness, outage restoration, business continuity, North America Electric Reliability Corporation compliance and T&D operations.

How to Apply the Outage Restoration Maturity Model

James Lass ([email protected]) is the general manager, T&D support and emergency management at Cleco Power, LLC. He has a BSEE degree from Louisiana State University and is registered as a professional engineer in Louisiana. Lass has been at Cleco for more than 25 years and started overseeing Cleco's emergency management program in 2007. He has directed large restoration efforts following Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Heidi Johnson ([email protected]) is the director, electric outage systems at Central Hudson Gas & Electric, where she is currently responsible for support of all outage-related systems, electric emergency plans and outage communications. Johnson has worked at the Poughkeepsie, New York-based electric and gas utility for nearly 30 years, primarily in the areas of operations and emergency response.

Anil Jayavarapu ([email protected]) is the director, business process management solutions at Avineon Inc. He has 18 years of experience in management consulting, product management, project management and technical roles. His responsibilities include the delivery of Web and mobile solutions for improving utility outage restoration processes. He has a MSE degree from George Mason University and a certificate in business administration from Georgetown University.

The Outage Restoration Maturity Model (ORMM) is comprised of 44 focus areas that constitute the full process of outage restoration. Each focus area is broken into several functions, for a total 158 functions. These focus areas and functions are anticipated to be updated over time as industry feedback serves to improve the model. The application of ORMM by a utility is a three-step process:

Examples of Focus Areas and Functions

  1. Select the focus areas relevant to the utility. (Note: This may vary by the nature and frequency of emergencies faced by the utility, applicable regulations and the opportunity provided by the prevailing rate structure.)

  2. Assess the functions within the selected focus areas on a scale of 0 to 3:

    0 = The function is not relevant to the utility.

    1 = The function is generally understood and executed on an as-needed basis but may not be documented.

    2 = The function is well defined and documented, and the metrics to assess the successful execution are defined.

    3 = The metrics associated with the execution of the function are collected, analyzed, and used for continuous improvement.

  3. The overall maturity level is derived by summing the individual assessments from step 2.

The table is a partial example of ORMM for a utility that has well-defined procedures and plans, but is weak in the areas of communication and training. For just these three focus areas, this utility has a maturity level of 20 out of a possible 36 (if all areas were rated at level 3). Thus, this utility might want to implement new practices to improve emergency role assignments, storm training and periodic reviews of its emergency plan. This is only a representative example of the complete ORMM.

For a complete copy of the ORMM, please send a request via e-mail to [email protected].

No.Focus areaDescriptionStep 1 (yes or no)Step 2 Assess functions (score 0 to 3)Step 3 total1 Plan The emergency operating plan outlining the activation, restoration, and response strategy Yes Define 3 Review 1 Publish 2 Train 2 8 2 Assignments Emergency/storm role assignments Yes Define 3 Assign 1 Balance 1 Maintain 1 6 3 Qualifications Training and certifications to perform the role Yes Define 3 Train 1 Track 1 Renew 1 6 Total maturity level: 20

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