CHICAGO – In front of a newly acquired, $1 million state-of-the-art regional mobile command center, ComEd today announced a number of steps taken and investments made to enhance its storm response process. The enhancements include the deployment of new communications and operations technology, enhanced processes and procedures during a storm, and additional field personnel. The effort is part of the company’s long-term commitment to continue to improve customer restoration process after a major storm.
The announcement comes a year after high winds and snow pummeled the ComEd service territory in early February 2011. The blizzard was considered Chicago’s third heaviest on record and knocked 179,000 customers out of power. More than 1,600 employees were part of a storm response team, many of them strategically staged at hotels the night before the event as part of storm preparation. ComEd activated 140 snow removal crews with heavy equipment to clear the way for its storm response team. Ninety percent of customers were restored within 18 hours of losing power.
“In the last twelve months, we’ve seen some of the most challenging and severe weather in ComEd’s history, and we made a commitment to all our customers that we would enhance our ability to respond to these extreme events,” said Anne Pramaggiore, president and chief operating officer of ComEd. “Providing reliable service and fast restoration is a 24 by 365 focus at ComEd. While Mother Nature’s wrath is unpredictable and unavoidable, ComEd has made progress on a number of fronts, and we feel better prepared to deliver enhanced service to our customers should another storm of this scale hit.”
A number of additional improvements are planned or underway, including:
Better communications to customers and municipalities:
• ComEd is strengthening its customer service center’s call volume capacity. This will reduce the number of customers that experience difficulty getting through during an extended outage situation when call volume is at its highest. The enhancement will be in place by the end of the second quarter.
• ComEd has implemented a two-way text messaging capability that allows customers to text their outage to ComEd and enables ComEd to text restoration information back to customers.
• ComEd will launch a mobile application in the second quarter for both Android and Apple iOS operating platforms, and it will provide outage reporting and outage status push notifications.
• ComEd has improved the Estimated Time for Restoration (ETR) system across all communication platforms including website, call center, and voice recognition system.
This will prevent customers’ receiving conflicting information about when the lights will be back on.
• ComEd has strengthened its municipal outreach communications to work more effectively with local officials on several fronts — for example, identifying and prioritizing life safety facilities for restoration and providing timely information about local storm restoration progress.
An increased number of storm responders and other resources for restoring customers faster:
• ComEd has increased the number of First Responders by an additional 20 percent. This adds to our damage assessment and repair capabilities and will speed up overall restoration times for customers.
• ComEd has increased the number of First Line Supervisors available for storm field support by 20 percent. This will provide for enhanced management and coordination of individual field teams.
Deployed new communications and operations technology to enhance field coordination and quicken storm restoration:
• ComEd has expanded GPS deployment across its entire mobile dispatch fleet to strengthen coordination of resources, allowing more effective storm restoration for customers.
• ComEd has built a new, $1 million, state-of-the-art regional mobile command center (MOC). The unit, which can house 25 ComEd engineers, dispatchers and other key storm response team members, comes fully equipped with the latest communications, satellite and video conferencing technology. The MOC will be deployed to the worst hit areas in a storm, bringing ComEd closer to its customers in times of severe weather and damage to the system. This will optimize restoration efforts, allowing ComEd to understand and respond to customer needs faster.
• ComEd has provided all first responders with new mobile dispatch units to improve connectivity between field teams and central dispatch centers.
• ComEd has added new generators to its inventory to support emergency restoration needs. This will allow ComEd to provide power to more high-priority facilities while repairs to damaged wires are underway.
• ComEd has created special regional task force teams to restore areas with catastrophic damage. These “incident command” teams will be fully equipped with field and technical personnel and the tools required for targeted restoration of areas with heavy damage.
ComEd noted that while these changes enhance its ability to respond to major storms, even greater benefits will come from installation of new, advanced metering technology that will enable the utility to pinpoint customer outages and speed reconnection. The recently enacted Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act authorizes full deployment of smart meters, which, when deployment is complete, will allow ComEd to see every customer’s outage status in real time as restorations are being made. The law authorizes a 10-year, $2.6 billion investment program. Under this program, ComEd will strengthen the existing electric system and add digital technologies to improve overall system reliability, reduce outages and improve power restoration. ComEd’s 2012 plan outlines $139 million in capital investments that will be dedicated to improving system reliability and $94 million in smart grid investments.
“Once fully implemented, grid modernization will take ComEd to another level in our ability to respond to severe weather,” said Pramaggiore.
In December, ComEd submitted a filing with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to establish a first-of-its-kind utility performance metrics program with financial penalties if it fails to achieve. The performance standards focus on improving system reliability such as reducing the frequency of outages by 20 percent over the 10 years (resulting in 700,000 fewer outages per year) and reducing annual average outage duration by 15 percent over 10 years.