by Andy Tiao and Michelle Gionta, Consolidated Edison Co. of New York
Imagine a major storm just blew through your service territory and caused widespread electric outages. Towns, villages and cities-municipalities-are so affected that they are requesting the electric utility send a representative to their emergency operations center (EOC) to help them manage the road closures, downed wires and service restoration questions. What would you do?
To address this issue, Con Edison Co. of New York (Con Edison) in the mid-1990s created the Municipal Liaison Program (MLP) to provide support to municipalities during emergencies and to foster information-sharing during such events by assigning storm roles (municipal liaison) to full-time employees. The MLP falls under the utility’s System Emergency Assignment (SEA) program in which contingency and storm assignments are assigned to employees based on employee skill and company needs. Such assignments include wire-guarding, crew guide, damage assessment, logistics support and municipal liaison.
Con Edison’s electric service territory covers 660 square miles and serves 3.3 million customers, or more than 9 million people, including 39 of the 43 municipalities in Westchester County and the five boroughs of New York City. In particular, Westchester County’s overhead electric distribution system consists of some 34,000 miles of cable, 47,000 overhead transformers and 206,000 utility poles. Because of this infrastructure, severe weather often leaves roads impassable with numerous downed trees, branches, utility poles and wires. Addressing public health and safety and providing access to all areas of a municipality are life-safety issues for fire, police and emergency medical services. For these reasons, Con Edison partnered with the municipalities and established the MLP.
The MLP originated with a pool of some 60-70 trained Con Edison employees who would be canvassed to serve as on-site contacts between the company and municipalities when severe weather resulted in municipal emergencies and outages to critical facilities. Employees selected for this assignment were mostly employees who had prior electric overhead experience.
Before 2012, the Con Edison service territory experienced several weather events that resulted in MLP activation. But the number of liaisons deployed was manageable using the “pool” concept, and the durations of the outages were short enough that one liaison could handle an entire event for one municipality.
But on Oct. 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy blew through the area. More than 75 percent of customers lost electric service in Westchester County. In some municipalities, more than 95 percent of residents encountered electric service interruption. Consequently, the MLP experienced the largest deployment in its history-it dispatched liaisons to 38 of the 39 municipalities for around-the-clock operation, and well beyond any past deployment duration. The program needed to be retooled.
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After Superstorm Sandy, Con Edison conducted after-action reviews with officials from all 39 municipalities. The objective was to get candid feedback: What worked? What could be improved? The resulting feedback was invaluable, and Con Edison quickly went to work. In particular, the municipalities expressed the importance of having a liaison they knew and had an established relationship with; not somebody they would be meeting for the first time in the midst of a major event.
To address this, Con Edison changed its MLP model from one that used a pool of some 70 liaisons that could be assigned to any location into a model with team support for each municipality. This structure replaced the old standard in which Con Edison would canvass a pool of resources asking for availability. A team of four liaisons per municipality would be needed to sustain a year-round staffing calendar, so the total number of liaisons increased to around 160.
This staffing and team concept upgrade, however, led to the need for a more formalized and sophisticated staffing management system. Con Edison wanted to ensure coverage on any given day but also recognized the need for employees to balance their obligations outside of this storm assignment.
Managing Complex Storm Assignment
There were inevitable scheduling challenges. Con Edison partnered with Arcos to leverage Arcos SOS, a product created with Con Edison, to tackle scheduling issues through some additional product customization.
The two created a sophisticated approach that enabled each liaison team to manage its own duty schedule for its assigned municipality. This scheduling feature ensures coverage on any given day (primary liaison, as well as backup liaison) while recognizing the personal and professional obligations of employees. Teams are free to develop a weekly rotation, monthly rotation or personalized duty schedule. Each team decides what works best.
Last-minute swaps, even just for a day, are possible. The system also allows the emergency management team to monitor the schedule for gaps in coverage and follow-up with the teams.
The Arcos callout feature communicates important information to all liaisons. The ease of initiating notification to all or a select population makes it the primary choice, vs. an email blast, for communicating important information quickly. The emergency management team also uses this feature to pre-mobilize, deploy liaisons or both when necessary.
The reporting capability is an added benefit to the management of the program. After initiating a callout, it is important to see who the system was unable to reach so that individual contact could then be made. Several report options are available, easily attainable and transparent.
It seems a trend that more municipalities want someone from their utilities to serve as a dedicated representative to explain and coordinate the restoration at their EOC. This approach, however, won’t be a fit for all utilities. Each service territory and situation is unique.
For Con Edison, the MLP makes good sense for its customer base. The MLP evolved over 20 years, and it is about finding the best way to manage storm assignments so Con Edison can facilitate restoration, keep interested parties informed of progress and ensure that the power comes back on swiftly and safely. As the utility looks to help manage the obstacles that come in the wake of any event, it will continue to explore and implement technologies for making storm restoration transparent and efficient for all concerned.
Andy Tiao is director of emergency management for Consolidated Edison. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and served four years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. He received his master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University. Reach him at [email protected]
Michelle Gionta is a project specialist for emergency management operations at Consolidated Edison. She graduated from Quinnipiac University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and English and from Iona College with a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology. Reach her at [email protected]
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