The Importance of Utility Preparation and Response to Natural Disasters

Stay Informed

It went from a tropical storm to a category 2 hurricane within hours. Locals who choose to ride it out have done everything they can to prepare – stocked up on all the necessary supplies and boarded up the house. Now all they can do is wait and hope for the best. The big question on everyone’s mind – will I lose power and if so, for how long?

Once the storm passes, utility companies have the task of rebuilding and restoring electricity to the hospitals, businesses, and communities affected. Knowing that these natural disasters are very possible, what are companies doing to prepare and reassure the public that they will be ready when the next storm strikes?

Understanding the importance to a utility company of creating a pre-disaster implementation plan and the role supply chain management plays in the process can be the key to a successful restoration effort.


Utility Trucks Preparing for Natural Disaster or Severe Storm

Anticipating the Worst: Utility Pre-Disaster Planning

Planning for a severe storm or natural disaster is vital to ensuring the safety of public and company personnel. If your utility company is not prepared in the event of an emergency, how would hospitals continue to operate and crews know where to start in the restoration process? Frankly, it would be sheer chaos.

With a predetermined plan, the highest priority areas would be identified – leaving no question on where to begin focusing efforts. The first priority would be to restore power to lifesaving services, such as hospitals, fire stations and emergency centers. Going without power for an extended timeframe at these locations would have negative consequences on the lives of many.

To ensure the quickest recovery time for everyone affected by the storm, the utility industry comes together under a mutual assistance program. This program is an alliance between utility companies across North America to support each other when disaster strikes.

Prior to a disaster occurring and even before one becomes a possibility, it is important to know when and how to tap into the network of restoration workers available through the mutual assistance program. When called into action, the crews come out in thousands, sometimes even tens of thousands, from all across North America to help get cities back on their feet.

Knowing What to Expect After Severe Storms

A severe storm may not seem like it would have a huge impact on utility companies, but with thousands of customers across the area, a plan needs to be in place. Sometimes these storm events pop up with little to no notice – making a predetermined plan a necessity to service the public. If an unexpected microburst happened and knocked out power to customers in part of a service area, there needs to be a plan in place to get everyone back on the grid as soon as possible.

Severe storm plans need to consider the hours after the storm has passed, but also what could arise in the days to follow. Utility companies should have a plan in place and be practicing and preparing long before the storm is in the forecast. From customer service to lineman, everyone within the company should know exactly what to do when a storm rolls through.


Utility Worker Responding to a Post-Storm Incident

Get Ready for the Big Leagues: Hurricanes

Hurricanes are the big leagues when it comes to natural disasters. With heavy rains and winds over 100 mph, these storms are no joke. Weather events of this level can cause mass amounts of damage and effect tens of thousands of people. The planning cycle and plan for hurricanes must be a long term effort and can span weeks to months. If a utility company is not prepared for a storm of this level, the results could leave the community in a dire state. 

Planning for a hurricane, or other natural disaster must be a priority for utility companies, especially those located in areas prone to natural disasters. Electrical employees need to know exactly what their plan of action is once the storm passes to get restoration efforts started as soon as possible.

As soon as the storm is identified, the pre-disaster plan should begin.

Implementing the Pre-Disaster Plan

As soon as the storm is identified, the pre-disaster plan should begin. It is important for companies to keep a close eye on the storm and stay up-to-date on its timing and movement. Having a better idea of where the storm will hit the hardest and when it is expected to make landfall will keep you one step ahead.

With this information, you will know where the best location for a staging area is and can begin shipping additional materials. As the storm continues to grow, knowing the level of severity will also give insight on how many additional personnel your company may need. This is where the mutual assistance program comes into the play.

Although every storm is different, having a well thought out and pre-planned disaster response can help improve the speed of restoration.

A great example of having a plan in action was during Hurricane Florence. After the hurricane passed, parts of the North Carolina coast line were not accessible due to massive flooding. WESCO had to coordinate with shipping and trucking companies to ferry materials across flooded areas. Without special coordination and planning with local authorities, shipping companies and customers, many customers could have been stranded without water or medical supplies for several weeks.

Post-Storm Assessment

After many hurricane seasons or storms, it’s important to review and understand the impact of the storms. What trends can we find from storms? How can we use these trends to plan material delivery and staging grounds more effectively? Performing and completing a post-storm assessment allows customers and WESCO to develop processes and create plans that help predict and model storms as they approach the U.S. mainland.

Supply Chain Management’s Role in Pre-Disaster Planning

Supply chain management should be an essential part of your disaster response and communication between companies should begin as soon as the storm is forecasted. When disaster strikes, staying organized and having open contact with your supply chain distributor is top priority.

Even before a storm is a threat, there should be a clear plan in place with your supply chain management partners. This plan should outline exactly what will happen in the event of a severe storm or natural disaster. Plan for the worst to make sure that crews are prepared for any situation that may arise.

Once a storm starts to form, it is time to put the plan into action. Work together to determine the best staging location, how much additional product will be needed and how materials will get there. This will prepare utility crews to hit the ground running as soon as the storm passes. If more material is needed than what was previously stocked, the supply chain team can quickly ship and track more material to the site to keep the restoration process moving.


A Hurricane Response Team Working to Determine the Effects of the Storm

How We Prepare In the Face of a Storm

When a storm is on the horizon, WESCO’s hurricane response team will be busy working to determine the effects of the storm. By collaborating with utility customers to track and prepare for the approaching storm, it can be determined what steps need to be taken.

How far the storm is from shore dictates the how the response proceeds from there. Then the specific strategy is developed depending on the category level of the storm. The plan evolves in the days leading up to the hurricane. Then, once the storm is 48 hours out, response teams are fully engaged in regular communications to determine the level of support needed before, during and after the hurricane hits.

WESCO provides customers with a variety of services when it comes to disaster response.

  • Pre-storm resource planning
  • Dedicated stock and prepositioning of storm inventory
  • Customer-specific product kits that are ready to ship on demand
  • Dedicated on-site WESCO resources located at the customer site to provide restoration services
  • Post-storm material handling

WESCO’s Hurricane Response Team Is Put to the Test

In recent years, the WESCO hurricane response team has been put to the test. With devastating storms such Hurricane Harvey that hit Houston in 2017, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017, and Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas in 2018.

During these storms, WESCO’s responses included four basic characteristics:

  1. Continuous daily communication and planning meetings
  2. Appropriate staging of material and resources to avoid system conditions and be ready for post-storm response
  3. Immediate response and deployment once conditions were safe
  4. Unrelenting drive to restore power and return to pre-storm conditions

By following these four characteristics, the WESCO hurricane response team has a clear plan of action and can react accordingly. During storms such as these, there is no time to waste when getting customer’s back up and running.

In each of those hurricane events, power outages ranged from a quarter-million to over a million customers – making the preplanned disaster response essential.

New call-to-action