From hurricanes to wildfires, business-impacting natural or man-made events can occur at any time and the fallout can keep utility executives on their toes.
Not only can a storm disrupt day-to-day operations, for the energy and utility industry there is an added complexity of responding to service disruptions for consumer and business customers.
"For utilities, the top priority is to keep the lights on,'' said Ernie Lewis, managing principal for Verizon's global Energy and Utilities practice. "In an extreme weather event or another emergency, utility companies keep the lights on by working efficiently and safely. It's all about getting services restored quickly and safely. The good news is that grid modernization is providing a broad array of advanced IT and advanced communications solutions - from mobility to the cloud - to help restore and maintain operations.''
Deploying new technologies is including among a series of recommendations from the GridWise Alliance, the leading coalition advocating for the modernization of the electric system in the United States, in a recent report "Improving Electric Grid Reliabilty and Resilience: Lessons Learned from Superstorm Sandy and Other Extreme Events." The report discusses ways to help alleviate the effects of large scale events on the nation's electric system and was the result of a workshop convened after 2012's Superstorm Sandy. In the workshop, representatives from 20 U.S. electric utilities, along with suppliers and other experts - including Verizon - shared experiences and lessons learned in managing extreme events.
"Disruptions to our power system from large scale events pose more than an inconvenience in today's digital economy. The United States depends on a reliable, resilient, safe, and secure electric power system, and when this service is disrupted the impacts are felt by all," said Becky Harrison, CEO of the GridWise Alliance, in a news release. "Modernization of the grid would help to reduce these effects.''
With smart grid projects and grid modernization efforts over the last few years, utilities already have been deploying machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions such as advanced metering infrastructure and automated meter reading that allow for advanced remote control and monitoring capabilities. For example, smart meters and smart grid sensors now provide utilities with visibility to know when the lights are off, without waiting for customers to pick up the phone and report outages.
At the same time, some utilities are now turning to mobile technologies to securely extend enterprise networks to service vehicles - which can aid in emergency response by empowering employees in the field with up-to-date information.
One large utility created rolling vehicle hot spots by outfitting service vehicles with mobile routers connected to Verizon's 4G LTE network. The vehicle area networks - or VANS - provide connectivity for laptops and other handheld devices, giving technicians access to maps, customer accounts and meter information. These technologies, combined with the utility's ongoing smart grid meter deployment, are effectively connecting the smart grid all of the way to the truck.
In addition to planning to protect networks and systems, utility customers should consider using cloud and network services for redundancy to support critical operations or telematics solutions to efficiently dispatch fleets to restore power in severe weather events.
During emergency events, Verizon can deploy its Emergency Response Mobile Communications Service Fleet, which provides critical communications services in a disaster area. The company also has a disaster recovery fleet, which includes the 51-foot Verizon Mobile Command Center, two 53-foot emergency communications calling centers and one 40-foot executive coach emergency communications center.
September marks National Preparedness Month and serves as a useful reminder to chief information officers and business continuity specialists that plans should be reviewed, tested and updated. A list of recommendations from Verizon's business continuity consultants to prepare for and cope with events can be found here.
Verizon offers a comprehensive portfolio of advanced networking, IT and communications solutions and professional consulting services that can be leveraged by organizations to create business-continuity programs.