Resource Mobilization: To Mobilize or Not to Mobilize, That is the Question

Recently, a lot of us have been reliving nightmares from El Ninos past.  Nasty weather forecasts. From the predictions, we could be in for some significant damage. Probably should engage in resource mobilization ahead of time – maybe even start some mutual assistance crews moving our way. But then again, what if the forecast is wrong? What if we bring in extra folks only to have them sitting around when the storm isn’t as bad as the forecasters thought?

But then again, what if it does turn out to be as bad as it might be? We’d really be behind the eight ball if that happens. But then again….

And so it goes. The Chicken or the Egg. The Rock and the Hard Place.  The age-old issue of resource mobilization pre-storm or waiting to see what will happen. Gambling with thousands of potentially wasted dollars against  thousands of customers freezing in the dark.

Solid storm restoration performance is a combination of having the right resources, when and where you need them, and focusing on restoration priorities.  In the end, it all gets done and everyone is restored, but not always without some initial gnashing of teeth, second-guessing and delays in the process.

Why is this such a hard decision to make?  Even when your pre-storm plan stipulates that you take certain actions, why do so many of us agonize over pulling the trigger? Is it the fear of reprisal? Fear of spending money and going over budget? Fear of being wrong?

……Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a storm of troubles and by opposing end them. To mobilize, to sleep no more. And by assessing the damage we end the heartache, and the thousand outages the service area is heir to. ‘Tis a decision devoutly to be wished. To mobilize, to sleep. To sleep–perchance to screw up. Ay, there’s the rub. -Hamlet (sort of)

If your plan is prudent and thresholds are established, spending won’t be a waste if the storm changes from catastrophic to just really bad. Chalk it up to practice. Who gets in trouble for being prepared?  Of course, if your company has a culture of punishing people for being too prepared, following approved plans or being unlucky, you have a different problem altogether.

Leadership needs to seriously consider more than just the cost of resource mobilization.  For instance: 

  • What is your reputation worth?
  • What is a regulatory review worth?
  • What is customer satisfaction worth?
  • For every hour you are behind in making a decision about resource mobilization, how many hours are you behind in restoration time?
  • Is there a point where the financial cost to mobilize is far offset by the potential cost of not doing so?

The news media typically don’t write stories about how well prepared you were, but they’re ready to slam you when you don’t show up with the level of effort they expect. And they don’t really care about how hard it was for your crews to drive through the snow and ice.

Investors will read those stories.  Customers won’t remember the years gone by without any significant outages, but they’ll tell stories about the “Blackout of 2010” for decades to come. And the regulators aren’t likely to defend your decision anyway, whatever it may be.

Some companies leave mobilization decisions up to the discretion of local, regional or corporate management.  Unfortunately, without strict, pre-set criteria, this approach can produce varied results.  It relies too much on the experience level of the person with the final say. It can also take a long time.

Some companies don’t leave the decision up to chance. They use an algorithm that takes multiple variables into consideration. There is no gray area – it’s a simple yes or no, and a level of resources is determined for mobilization at a specific time period. No ifs, ands or buts.  It’s all very scientific and defensible, but perhaps a little cold-hearted.

There may be a happy medium out there that uses some combination of the two – where you use decision criteria based on analytics, and sound judgment based on experience.

There is no easy answer because there are so many factors to weigh: corporate culture, internal and external stakeholders, decision processes, depth of experience, planning criteria – to say nothing of budgets and the accuracy of weather forecasts.

Our friend Hamlet may have been confronted with the ultimate dilemma of human existence.  But compared to the complexities of storm mobilization in the 21st century, Hamlet’s decision was no harder than a coin toss.

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