On August 14, 2003, it took just three minutes for 21 power plants across the eastern United States and parts of Canada to go down. The outage affected residents of several of the largest cities in North America, including New York City, Detroit and Toronto. In total, the blackout impacted some 50 million people and caused millions in lost productivity. Many residents were forced to navigate extended periods without power, with some experiencing days-long outages. In a follow-up investigation, experts found that a number of issues were at fault, including tree branches resting on power lines in Ohio, equipment failures, and an inability by the utilities to identify potential hazards in advance.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of that historical event. While a lot has changed over the last two decades, many utilities have yet to invest in technology to mitigate similar effects of a future emergency. In fact, a recent piece published by Industry Dive [download required] found that 68% of utilities have still not launched projects that deliver faster response during storms. At the same time, “70% of utilities cited their ability to invest and maintain a more resilient grid as a major concern for grid development over the next three to five years.” If there’s one thing that utilities recognize, it’s that adequate field service management is a necessary long-term investment. The good news is, this technology can be deployed quickly and cost-effectively.
Field service software management software is one of the most impactful investments that a utility can make to monitor asset reliability and refine disaster response. These cloud-based solutions provide a variety of benefits, ultimately assisting the utility with mobile workforce management.
The most robust versions of field service management software tout many different embedded modules within one platform that have proven value for utilities. From work order management to scheduling, routing and dispatching, asset and inventory management, and contractor management, field service management software can help create efficiencies and improve productivity.
We can’t definitively say that field service management software can prevent outages, but there’s no doubt that it can help in a few different ways. To start, let’s look at the causes of that 2003 event.
Remember how reports showed power lines in Ohio were covered with nearby tree branches? Field service management software can help to eliminate that risk by enabling better control and coordination of vegetation management. With this software, utilities can use the work order management module to proactively assign recurring maintenance tasks. This simple measure ensures that existing infrastructure remains free and clear of any vegetation.
The 2003 outage was partly due to equipment failure, another area where field service management software shines. The asset and inventory management module provides utilities with an all-encompassing database for storing critical infrastructure information. For example, utilities can note when elements of infrastructure were purchased and installed, access maintenance records, and determine the asset’s expected usable lifetime. Insights like these give utilities control over asset health, allowing management to plan repairs before become real problems. Reducing the amount of faulty assets in use is a way to avoid a widespread outage or other emergency.
Lastly, whether a storm or malfunctioning assets lead to a power outage, time is always of the essence. Field service management software employs GPS tracking for vehicles and personnel, so dispatchers can see technician locations at all times. They can send alerts to technicians closest to the emergency and start fixing any problems quickly.
Dispatchers can also sort technicians by skill set, prioritizing technicians with relevant skills and certifications to handle specific tasks.
They say the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If that’s the case, we should prepare for another major blackout like we faced in 2003. The best way to protect your utility and your customers from similar emergencies is through technician preparation, control over asset health, and strong communication. That’s where EnSight+ can help.
We offer a field service management solution designed for the utility industry that can do everything mentioned above and more. In addition, our solution is affordable and completely customizable. Interested in learning how we can help you improve emergency response? Book your demo today.
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