Joining Forces for Disaster Recovery
Extreme conditions can stretch resources and slow response when power outages occur. Edison Electric Institute’s voluntary network of electric companies helps ensure that first response—and power restoration—are fast and effective.
In the past 10 years, a global increase in natural disasters and catastrophes has led to more frequent, extensive, and extended power outages. Government agencies, humanitarian groups, and local companies—challenged to consider a full range of response options in urgent conditions—sometimes struggle with quick, full response. In the absence of coordination and deployment at the national level, these first responder organizations can face serious resource constraints; government agencies and officials can be limited in their ability to investigate possible regulatory reforms; and the public might see limited improvement in the way the nation responds to natural disasters.
Recognizing the need, the Edison Electric Institute developed the EEI Mutual Assistance Network to support immediate response and restoration of power, as well as long-term improvements such as investigations to uncover data and insights that contribute to more resilient systems and the exchange of effective practices.
Since 1950, investor-owned electric companies have come together at the regional level to provide on-the-ground, rapid power restoration and assistance during natural disasters and catastrophes. However, Superstorm Sandy, with its destruction affecting 24 states and as many as 10 million customers in 2012, challenged the industry and government to look for ways to enhance power restoration support and thus improve public safety by accelerating the response and reducing potential economic consequences. EEI responded with its nationally focused Mutual Assistance Network, a voluntary partnership of more than 100 investor-owned electric companies across the United States and Canada that are committed to helping restore power when assistance is needed by working directly with communities and government agencies. In addition to supporting a consistent, unified response, the network focuses on sharing best practices and technologies that help the electric power industry improve its ability to prepare for, and respond to, emergencies.
In the event of a major outage, electric companies are able to increase the size of their workforce by “borrowing” workers from other companies. Through the network, the affected companies can request skilled workers, specialized equipment, and other types of resources such as line workers, tree trimmers, damage assessors, and even call center support. Before the restoration work begins, the volunteers receive any necessary safety training and an overview of the affected facilities from the host electric company.
Critical to the network’s success have been EEI’s work to develop a national framework to knit together all regional mutual assistance groups and coordination with a range of organizations including the All Hazards Consortium’s Multi-State Fleet Response Working Group, the National Emergency Management Association, the National Governors Association, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Additionally, in 2013, EEI released a publication, Before and After the Storm (updated in 2014), that compiled data, recommendations, and best practices related to storm handling and infrastructure resilience. The 2014 edition included analysis of cost recovery and a representative cross-section of state regulatory and legislative actions initiated to address storm resiliency.
As a result of coordinated and data-driven efforts, new technologies have been introduced, such as investments in the nation’s $52.8 billion energy grid transmission and distribution infrastructure. Electric companies also invested in technologies, such as smart meters and drones to speed damage assessment and restoration. And given new threats to critical infrastructure, the network has launched a program to protect against and address cyberattacks.
Since its inception, the EEI Mutual Assistance Network has responded to hundreds of natural disasters—including Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston and hurricanes Maria in Puerto Rico, Katrina in Florida and Louisiana, and Sandy in New York and New Jersey. The government plays a critical role in helping communities respond to these natural disasters, but when it comes to a service as fundamental as electricity, the industry itself is on the front lines of response. This has become particularly important as the number of catastrophes around the world has increased steadily over the past 40 years.
The impact of EEI’s Mutual Assistance Network can be seen through some of its largest response efforts:
The damage done by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 was unprecedented in its size and scope. Approximately 10 million customers lost power across 24 states in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and parts of the Midwest. The electric power industry deployed an army of tens of thousands of restoration workers representing 80 companies from almost every state and Canada to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. During Superstorm Sandy, one of EEI’s senior leaders went to the FEMA Interagency Task Force and served as a channel for information to feed directly from affected companies to the government and vice versa. It was a first-of-its-kind partnership and shaved days off the nation’s response time.
More than 10,000 workers were dedicated to the Hurricane Harvey response and recovery effort, and mutual assistance crews from at least 21 states responded to provide support in Texas and Louisiana.
Given the size and strength of Hurricane Irma, 60,000 workers from across the United States and Canada were mobilized and dedicated to the response and recovery effort in Florida and the Southeast. This included workers from affected companies, as well as mutual assistance crews, contractors, and other support personnel. At Irma’s peak, there were more than 7.8 million outages. Just one week later, 95 percent of customers who had lost power had their electricity restored.
Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm, made landfall in Puerto Rico in September 2017, affecting all critical infrastructure and damaging at least 80 percent of the island's energy grid. The damage caused by Maria was unlike anything seen on the mainland United States, and this power restoration mission was larger, more difficult, and more complex than other restoration efforts. A strong partnership resulted with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors, and industry mutual assistance crews working together to restore power safely and as quickly as possible. Nearly 60 investor-owned electric companies and public power utilities committed crews, equipment, and materials to the emergency power restoration mission. Overall, approximately 3,000 industry line workers and support personnel were involved in the restoration effort.
Although Hurricane Michael developed quickly—just 73 hours elapsed between the time Michael was first named as a tropical storm and the time it made landfall as a category 5 hurricane — electric companies mobilized an army of more than 35,000 workers from at least 27 states and Canada to respond. Less than a week after Hurricane Michael devastated the Southeast, electricity was restored to more than 2.6 million, or 95 percent, of affected customers.
Hurricane Dorian devastated parts of the Bahamas, affected coastal regions in the southeastern United States, and damaged parts of Atlantic Canada. In advance of the storm, electric companies, public power utilities, and electric cooperatives activated crews from 36 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada to support storm restoration, thus ensuring that the industry was well-resourced and well-prepared to respond to the areas affected by Hurricane Dorian. After the storm hit, crews worked around the clock to restore power to customers.
“I know firsthand from my years of handling storm response for Con Edison, mutual assistance is a cornerstone of electric company operations during emergencies and is essential to contingency planning.”
—Carlos D. Torres, Consultant, EEI, Power Restoration Coordination, Puerto Rico
“In our industry, our mantra is that we want to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today. This means that, after storms, we compile lessons learned and create strategies to close gaps and identify areas for improvement …. Since Superstorm Sandy, the industry has worked even more closely together and with government partners to apply lessons learned from that significant storm, to streamline restoration efforts, and to improve how the industry prepares and responds safely to large-scale major events that cause significant outages.”
—Scott Aaronson, Vice President, Security and Preparedness, EEI
“We were up in the mountains with a woman and young son who had been without power for over 100 days; she came out with packages of food for the line workers and was so thankful.”
—Stephanie Voyda, Vice President of Communications, EEI