The Staging Area Challenge

Take a moment to consider how things are going in the outage restoration business. Population continues to shift toward areas prone to flooding, wild fires and intense storms. In many areas, the climate seems to be changing, and not in a very benign way. And while technology continues to improve the reliability and dependability of delivering service, it also adds a greater degree of complexity when things break down.

All of these elements are conspiring to create bigger, more widespread outages.

Public utilities have understood for a long time that their internal resources can’t possibly take on such “big events” alone. Given pressure to maintain “leaner, meaner” organizations, everyone needs even more help from outside. Mutual Assistance agreements and arrangements with local contractors to supply personnel and equipment are more important than ever.

But what happens when all that extra help comes streaming into your territory? Where do you put them? How do you organize their work? How do you make sure they don’t have to roast wieners over open fires, or camp out in their own trucks?

The need for effective staging areas (for the purpose of this article, we’ll use the term staging area to refer to base camps also) is a growing concern for many utilities. Abandoned shopping centers or malls, out-of-session schools and colleges, racetracks, shuttered factories, open fields – they have all been used at one time or another as staging areas. Some work well, some don’t. But the need to find good ones and make them work efficiently is a serious challenge.

This need has not gone unnoticed by some enterprising vendors who are offering all kinds of services, materials and resources. But before you go around scouting sites and vendors for staging areas, it might be a good idea to think about what you need to do at a staging area.

What is Your Staging Area Going to be Used for?

  • Marshaling and/or parking trucks and heavy equipment
  • Checking in personnel
  • Receiving, storing and distributing materials
  • Fueling equipment
  • Billeting (i.e. lodging & feeding personnel)
  • Distributing work to personnel
  • Temporary offices
  • Some of these?
  • All of these?

There are plenty of excellent vendors who can fulfill many of your staging area’s logistical needs -but first you need to be clear about what you need a staging area for, and how you will manage it. For instance, how will you manage and account for all the materials? Who will be your manager at the staging area? Who is your lodging “Concierge,” or your “Ombudsman” for resolving problems? How will you assure safety and security (including cyber security)? How will you link all this up with the rest of your organization? How does this integrate into your current emergency plans?

It almost goes without saying that utilities are under ever-increasing government scrutiny of the success or shortcomings of their restoration efforts. But there – we’ve said it. Regulatory auditors are paying special attention to how well and how prudently you manage not only your own operation, but also the extra resources you do or don’t bring in to handle big events. Putting together an effective and efficient staging area can be critical to emergency response, and shortening restoration times after major outage incidents.

The only way to make sure you can marshal all these forces effectively is through a lot of detailed process design and planning, done well in advance of a big, unpredictable event that might happen only once in a decade – or several times a year.

We never said it was easy to do. Just necessary.

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