While Southern Californians are just starting to wade into the summer heat, Southern California Edison (SCE) has been practicing its response to heat-related emergencies for months.
On July 1, SCE rolled out an improved emergency response program that redefines how the company responds to events that threaten or have damaged the system, including heat waves. The new program is based on the Incident Command System (ICS), the framework used by law enforcement, fire departments and emergency first responders throughout the nation.
The new process has already been tested to address storm-related responses. On July 2, the SCE team mobilized to quickly respond to significant system damage in the Ridgecrest, Calif., area after a strong, microburst storm left downed wires and broken support structures. Within four hours, SCE restored service to almost all of the 5,000 affected customers and effectively communicated restoration times to the remaining customers.
In the past 18 months, more than 300 SCE personnel have been trained in ICS, a series of certifications offered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Company personnel have participated in several day-long drills, polishing their planning and response coordination activities, and most importantly, forming a team.
“During an emergency, I need to lead a team of people I don’t work with every day in a high-stress environment,” said Joseph Bauza, manager of Grid Operations Storm Management and trained incident commander for SCE. “The extensive training and exercises have helped us forge a command team that can anticipate each other’s needs and respond quickly, even under pressure.”
The culmination exercise, held just before the launch date, was observed by the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Energy Commission and the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management.
“The ICS system is the gold standard for emergency managers and first responders,” said Ken Kondo, program specialist and public information officer at Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office, Office of Emergency Management. “Having SCE utility professionals speaking the same language and using the same structure means that we can all be more effective when working together — especially when the community needs us the most.”
ICS is used by all levels of government — federal, state, tribal and local — as well as by many nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to effectively manage emergency response. Its key strengths include the ability to handle small and large issues — which is important when an event can be as small as a single substation or as large as a 50,000-square-mile SCE service territory. It also has the ability to seamlessly integrate with other agencies, which helps when SCE transmission lines are located in the middle of a wildfire.
Following the significant damage and difficult system recovery of the 2011 windstorms in the San Gabriel Valley, SCE began a rigorous root cause analysis and detailed corrective action plan to ensure the company could restore service more effectively the next time. External communications, accurate recovery time estimates and processes to safely and efficiently restore power were identified as deficiencies.
It also became clear that an overarching command-and-control structure was needed to coordinate it all, and SCE decided to adopt the ICS system.
More than 180 improvements in storm emergency response were identified and to date, more than 90 percent of them have been completed, with the remaining ones being long-term projects that are underway.
The completed improvements include: multilingual capabilities to the automated response system for customers to get up-to-date outage information, online and mobile outage information access, reverse 911 communications in some areas and the use of early damage assessment teams to help plan more efficient restoration.