KUA Weathers Storm Outage Management-And Weathers it Well

By Kathleen Davis, associate editor

Who do you go to when you want to discuss managing disaster-related outages? Well, a utility that juggles hurricane season seems a natural choice. So, this month, Utility Automation & Engineering T&D magazine spoke with Ken Davis, vice president of engineering and operations with Florida’s Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA).

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KUA owns, operates and manages the municipal electric system established by the City of Kissimmee in 1901. Compared to other municipally owned electric utilities, KUA is the sixth-largest utility in Florida. KUA’s 300-plus employees serve approximately 64,000 customers in Kissimmee and surrounding areas.

Davis holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama. He joined KUA in 1984. In this interview, he gives us the lowdown on the technology, politics and preparation of disaster-related outage management.

A KUA crew helps out in Mississippi after Katrina.
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UAE: Walk us through what happens at KUA in a storm-related emergency. Do you have an outage restoration process?

Ken Davis: We have a very extensive Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) that follows the format of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The plan details the activities that take place for all types of emergencies. Emergency operations may span the scope of activating only the T&D line crews all the way up to activation of every single KUA employee. All KUA employees have pre-defined roles that they will assume during emergency operations. For example, our finance & risk management department is assigned the role of the logistics section. In that role, they take over the responsibility of logistics for all personnel, including crews brought in to assist in the restoration. They manage the functions of feeding crews, arranging for housing accommodations, providing laundry services, etc.

As far as the actual restoration process is concerned, we have a detailed outage restoration process. Like most utilities, our restoration process follows the guideline of restoring critical facilities first and then restoring areas based on restoring the most customers in the shortest amount of time. Our EOP includes a detailed restoration priority section. This section lists the restoration priority of all critical facilities, the number of customers served by each feeder and substation, and the order in which each feeder should be restored.

UAE: Give us a breakdown of your outage management system: hardware and software. Was it developed piecemeal in house or purchased in whole from a vendor? How have you adapted it for KUA?

KD: KUA utilizes Telvent/Miner & Miner’s Responder Outage Management System (OMS). This is a GIS-based OMS that is built upon ESRI’s ArcGIS and Miner & Miner’s ArcFM Solution. The system is Windows-based and contains client, server and web components. KUA has moderately customized the application for our needs, mostly due to reporting. KUA was the first site to install and implement Responder.

UAE: How is Responder working out for you?

KD: Responder is working wonderfully. Since we were the first to implement, we were able to steer development early on in the directions we needed. It is an excellent product-without it, hurricane restoration would have been unimaginable.

And, that sentiment comes directly from Ken Beville, the gentleman that oversees the entire outage management system at our utility. His words of praise don’t come freely.

UAE: How much do you budget for storm-related outage management each year, and how is that money broken down? ($1 million for overtime, $200,000 for replacement equipment, etc.)

KD: We do not specifically budget for storm-related outage management. Being in central Florida, we are accustomed to some pretty severe afternoon storms throughout the summer months. Costs associated with these types of storm-related outages are included in our routine operating budgets.

UAE: How difficult is it to estimate potential costs of storm outages? How much can it throw off your operating and maintenance budget?

KD: It is extremely difficult to estimate potential costs of storm-related outages. Who would have ever projected that our area would be hit by three hurricanes in a span of six weeks, as we experienced in 2004? Then to see 2005 shatter all Atlantic region records with 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes, seven of which were Category 3 or higher. To follow that, 2006 was projected to be nearly as active as 2005. However, 2006 turned out to be relatively inactive.

Severe storm-related outages can affect our operating budget significantly. However, we do maintain various funds that can be utilized for storm-related costs if necessary.

UAE: The financial impact of Katrina bankrupted Entergy’s New Orleans business unit. Does KUA fear similar financial disaster if Mother Natures tosses “the perfect storm” at you?

KD: We believe that we are well prepared, both operationally and financially. We learned a lot of lessons from the 2004 hurricanes that have helped us to better prepare for future storms. While we may not have faced “the perfect storm,” we did face three hurricanes within a six-week period of time. We had not come close to recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Charley-a storm which resulted in loss of electric service to 100 percent of our customers-when we were hit by the second hurricane.

From a financial aspect, we have predicted as best we can, the types of losses we could expect to incur on our transmission and distribution system if we were to be hit by a major hurricane. Our board of directors has approved a budgetary guideline of maintaining an insurance reserve to fund the reconstruction of this projected system damage in the event we experienced this level of losses.

UAE: In your history with KUA, what was the worst storm you weathered? Tell us some stories from that storm.

KD: I believe the hurricanes of 2004 were the worst-due to the number of storms, the time frame in which they happened and the widespread effect they had on our service territory.

Within a 44-day period in August and September of that year, Florida saw unprecedented weather as four major hurricanes pulverized the state. Three of the storms passed through the KUA service area leaving behind thousands of damaged homes and buildings as well as downed trees.

Hurricane Charley came first and knocked out power to 100 percent of the utility’s 58,000 customers. KUA’s transmission and distribution system sustained unprecedented damage. In just hours, what took decades to build was completely decimated. But KUA crews were up to the challenge and plunged into repair work immediately after the storm with the help of more than 350 workers from other utilities and contractors.

Fifty-four percent of the residents had power restored in the first 72 hours; 85 percent were restored within one week. Service was finally restored to all customers nearly two weeks after the storm.

Three weeks after Hurricane Charley struck, the area was ravaged by Hurricane Frances; and three weeks after Frances, Hurricane Jeanne. KUA lost service to 36 percent of its customers during Hurricane Frances and 59 percent during Hurricane Jeanne.

The hurricanes were a wake-up call for our entire community. Because of our location in the center of the state, we had always felt safe and sheltered from the effects of a major hurricane. The hurricanes of 2004 showed us that coastal communities were not the only ones vulnerable to wind and water damage.

But, the most amazing factor in weathering these storms was the strength of our employees. Many of our employees had homes that were either damaged or destroyed by the hurricanes-roofs ripped off, water damage. But, they put the customers’ needs ahead of their own.

Before Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne, the thought of rebuilding our electrical system three times in seven weeks was unimaginable.

As we reflected on the factors that made it possible to survive and thrive after the events of the 2004 hurricane season, we realized that amid the chaos of it all one thing remained constant-the sustaining factor of our employees.

UAE: What did you learn from those 2004 storms? Has it helped you prepare for future ones?

KD: We’ve done a lot of things as a utility and as a community to prepare for the next storm. KUA continues to conduct its annual disaster drill using lessons learned from the 2004 storms.

The drill involves a wide range of activities, including both live-action training as well as table top exercises. The mock disasters are handled with the same intensity as real-life incidents. Activities include pre- and post-hurricane scenarios as well as a series of exercises to gauge how effectively the utility would respond to a pandemic or other major health threat, such as avian influenza.

Hundreds now attend KUA’s hurricane prepartion meetings since the disastrous 2004 hurricane season.
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A team of evaluators observe the drill to identify vulnerabilities and exposures and make recommendations for improvements. And, to enhance communication with our customers and the media, we developed a comprehensive alert program that includes a “hurricane handbook.”

UAE: What type of weather is the worst to deal with?

KD: Probably from our perspective it would be hurricanes. Because of the potential wind speeds and the size of the storm path, hurricanes can essentially affect our entire service territory. Secondly, we face the threat of hurricanes every single year, for six months out of the year.

UAE: Do your lineman require specific training to deal with inclement weather conditions?

KD: Not specifically, other than the training they go through when we conduct our disaster drills. At this point, they are all well-tested.

UAE: How important is it for a utility to plan ahead for potential storm outages?

KD: We believe that it is critical. Every employee should be prepared to take on a role different from their normal functions during emergency operations. In order for employees to understand their new role, and to function in this role efficiently, it is imperative that they prepare by training. We go through an extensive disaster drill every year just prior to hurricane season. This drill involves every employee at KUA.

UAE: What advice would you give other municipals on how to manage storm-related outages? Any words of wisdom?

KD: Plan ahead and practice, practice, practice. Also, have a well-written emergency plan that is reviewed and updated each year. Make sure all employees are trained on the plan and that they all understand the role they will be asked to fill during emergency operations.

UAE: What role does storm outage management play in good will and good service to your community?

KD: Restoration of power following a major storm is critical to the overall recovery of the community. We believe that it is important to look at our role in the recovery process as one of helping to restore the community to normal as opposed to just restoring power. The quicker and more efficiently we can do that job, the better we can serve our community.

UAE: How understanding are your customers in these emergency outage situations?

KD: For the most part customers are understanding. But, let’s face it, we have all spoiled our customers with extremely reliable service. The customer has become accustomed to this level of service, and sometimes it is hard for them to accept anything less, even after a major storm. We have learned that the most important thing we can do to help the customer understand the restoration process is to communicate with them. We have tried to develop other methods of communicating with our customers instead of relying on the normal outlets of local television and radio stations.

UAE: Tell me about your severe outage alert program that sends text messages to customers’ cell phones. Is it a popular program, and has it been effective?

KD: Past experience has shown us that we can’t rely on the media to communicate our message correctly or comprehensively. The text alert system bridges the communication gap and allows direct communication from the utility to the customer

The outage alert program has been very well-received by customers. The signup process is simple: A customer can call in or subscribe over the web to receive text message alerts direct from the utility.

At the beginning of storm season, we see a marked increase in signups as local Floridians prepare for hurricane season.

It’s interesting to note that many property owners residing out of state also subscribe as a way to stay advised of weather issues in our area. Being geographically removed from your property creates an information vacuum around the pre- and post-storm status. Information on outages and the availability of power is critical if you are planning a trip to your Florida property or renting it out to vacationers.

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