The need for a reliable energy supply is foundational to our societies. As excellent planners and responders, utilities always are “preparing for the worse and hoping for the best” when it comes to severe weather. Now, they must develop contingencies to restore power under the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, where people’s movements are restricted and when not all typical services may be available.

Severe weather events are happening more frequently, and experts forecast the 2020 tropical cyclone season to be one of most active on record. In the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said, “an above-normal hurricane season is very likely, and there is an increased possibility of the season being extremely active.” The 2020 season is proving the experts right as the season’s records keep mounting. It already is the first season with 15 named storms formed by September 2, and this year is being compared to the infamous 2005 season that ended up with 28 named storms, the season of record in terms of strength of storms.

The need to manage severe weather impacts has been a growing trend in our interviews with utilities executives in the CGI Client Global Insights, rising in mentions 13 percentage points year-over year, and cited by 42% of executives in North America and 29% in Europe.

With all of this in mind, utilities’ severe weather response efforts should never reach a point of complacency: they must get better with each event. Yet, many are still using homegrown spreadsheets and paper processes to manage these activities instead of a centralized application that could provide better visibility of resources and logistics. As a result, the pursuit of emerging technologies, along with improved processes and communication methods—including situation awareness and digital tools—must become an entrenched objective.

Expectations from customers and regulators are high

After a storm or other severe weather event, utilities are under significant pressure to react and return infrastructure operations as safely, efficiently and quickly as possible. Despite the pandemic, customer and regulator expectations for such restoration response will continue to grow.

Coordinating large numbers of internal and external resources and equipment presents ongoing logistical challenges. Service restoration efforts are subject to regulatory compliance, financial audits and scrutiny, and utilities must demonstrate efficiencies in all such activities to justify their decisions. In addition, regulators expect activities between mutual aid responders to be highly coordinated, which speaks to the advantage of having a single storm management platform.

A common digital platform is key

With the need to address more frequent large-scale severe weather events, many utilities are pursuing a common digital platform to manage such activities and processes around resources, logistics and financials, as well as work and situation awareness. An integrated solution provides a seamless user experience and real-time visibility for all stakeholders. It also improves operational efficiencies by enabling better team collaboration and, most importantly, by eliminating those homegrown systems and manual processes. Additionally, it provides needed visibility to support continuous improvement and after-action reviews and reporting. For additional information, please see my previous blog, Key strategies and technologies to help utilities respond to a “storm” never seen before.

Severe weather management is a perpetual process. Utilities’ recognition of the value of a common digital platform for emergency response should allow them to keep pace with growing expectations and new challenges: “Because utilities are only as good as their last severe weather event.”

For many years, CGI has worked with grid operators on effective systems and processes for storm management. We have developed CGI Storm Manager, part of CGI OpenGrid Workforce Storm Manager, as a common platform for managing all of the processes within the storm life cycle. Please contact me to learn more.

I also invite you to read, “Forecasting floods with integrated data and predictive analytics” by my colleague, Sumit Shah, on CGI’s partnership with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) to develop the Machine Learning-enabled Flood Forecasting Prototype, a deep learning, data-driven flood forecasting system.

About this author

Bill Shelly

Bill Shelly

Senior Consultant, Utility Solutions, CGI U.S. Operations

Bill has 35+ years of experience in the electric transmission and distribution utility industry. This includes multiple senior roles for one of the best-performing electric utility companies. He is a recognized expert in many areas of electric distribution operations, including construction, contracting, resource management, design, ...

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