Recent Outage Statistics Reveal, It’s Always Something

Recent outage statistics reveal that it’s been a crazy few months for utilities on the East Coast. Barely recovered from Tropical Storm Irene, the region was hit by a freakishly heavy October snow, bringing down leaf-laden trees and limbs, leaving thousands of people in the dark, many for more than a week.

Then came a different kind of storm: the endless questions, investigations, interrogatories, hearings, public meetings, and on, and on, and on. As Roseanne Rosannadanna used to say, “It’s always something!”

Why? Consider for a minute the people behind the outage statistics. When you don’t have electricity, or gas, or water for days on end, and you’re trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life in spite of it all, it’s hard to have much sympathy for those whose job it was to plan for this sort of thing and keep it from getting out of hand. And it’s just as hard for public officials to ignore the complaints about promised help that seems slow in coming.

Bracing ourselves for the physical storm is something we’re used to and usually pretty well prepared for. But how do you brace yourself for the onslaught of all the unwanted outside attention and all the work that media, governmental and legal scrutiny entails?

Maybe it would be a good idea to borrow some wisdom from Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” If any part of your job involves restoration planning or emergency preparedness, you might consider adopting Covey’s “Habit 2 – Begin with the end in mind.”

Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eye….If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize (what you want) then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default….Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.
Steven R. Covey

(Ed note: Covey’s “Habit 1” is “Be Proactive”).

A few positive “ends” to keep in mind might be minimal restoration expenditures, customers restored sooner than projected, positive news media and social media coverage, or an improving trend with one or more important outage statistics.

But for obvious reasons, some “ends” are particularly important to remember:

  • Minimal public outcry or scrutiny from utility regulators
  • No hearings
  • No lawsuits
  • No call for management audits

The damage wreaked by storms and other emergencies is costly enough. But we all know how time consuming it is to develop and submit information following an event. So “begin with the end in mind.”

  • Have a good, updated plan, with well-developed cross-functional participation and input.
  • Delineate how resource decisions are made.
  • Set up pre-event processes that ensure readiness for the use of activity logs, record keeping, expenditure tracking, restoration communications, personnel readiness, second roles, material needs and resource needs.
  • Designate who is to fill out the logs and who handles them at the end of each shift.
  • Have a process for documenting your actions and gathering outage statistics during every storm event.
  • Design a process for compiling the information gathered.
  • Have a set process for debriefing promptly after an event. Share the debrief information across all teams to identify key areas to improve, assign responsibility and set due dates.
  • Train your employees and practice.

A culture of continuous improvement is absolutely vital for turning “worst case scenarios” into “best possible outcomes.” You may want to include your regulatory folks in your upfront planning. If you have a reliability department that typically gathers up information once an event is over, enlist them to work before and during the event. Have them help design data-gathering forms and templates that can help not only with restoration efforts, but also with tracking outage statistics, post event filings and reports.

The more time you spend “Beginning with the End in Mind,” the less time and hassle you’ll have trying to defend your company’s restoration decisions and efforts. You’ll have more time to devote yourself to preparing for the next emergency. And you will have mastered the “Second Habit of Highly Effective Emergency Planners.”

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