OCEAN CITY — On the cusp of another hurricane season in the resort area, Delmarva Power officials said this week the company has learned lessons from Super Storm Sandy and other major storms in recent months and has a plan in place to minimize prolonged outages should the mid-Atlantic area be struck again this year.
When then-Hurricane Sandy ripped through Ocean City and the mid-Atlantic area in October, high winds, heavy rains and downed trees caused inevitable power outages for thousands of Delmarva Power customers throughout the region. A similar scenario played out during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and more recently, during a significant nor’easter that hammered the area in March.
In each case, Delmarva Power crews worked around the clock during the actual storms and in the hours and days after it had passed restoring power to thousands of customers left in the dark by the storms. While major storms are inevitable and seemingly more frequent, Delmarva Power has complex plans in place to avoid outages or at least minimize their duration for local customers.
“We obviously can’t do anything about getting hit,” said Delmarva Power Regional President Gary Stockbridge this week. “If we learned any lessons from Sandy, it’s how we prepare and plan. If a storm is going to hit, all we can influence is how well we respond. To that end, we have drills and practice, then we drill and practice some more.”
Stockbridge said Delmarva Power works closely with local emergency management agencies, the Red Cross, MEMA and FEMA during the storms and the various agencies have concerted mitigation plans in place. He said Delmarva Power devotes an considerable amount of resources to storm and emergency management.
“We have a whole group in our company that just does this,” he said. “And almost everybody else in our company has secondary training in emergency situations.”
In the wake of Super Storm Sandy, a lot of federal relief funding has been directed at preventing prolonged outages, particularly along the coastal areas of New Jersey and New York hit hardest. The funding is being used to protect and elevate substations in flood-prone areas, for example.
According to Stockbridge, Delmarva Power got good grades for its response to Hurricane Sandy. According to a recent survey, 91 percent of those who responded said they were satisfied with the company’s performance during and following the storm and the company gained 11 percentage points on its approval rating from 2011 to 2012. Delmarva Power also has stringent reliability performance standards it is required to meet during all times of the year, although the standards are naturally relaxed somewhat during major storms and other emergencies.
For example, the company is required to improve its average number of interruptions and the average service interruption times. The System Average Interruption Frequency Index, or SAIFI, sets performance standards for the average number of acceptable outages. In 2011, Delmarva Power’s SAIFI came in at 2.42, meaning the average customer experiences 2.42 outages during the year. In 2012, that number was reduced to 1.69 times, or about 30 percent less than the prior year.
Similar standards are set for the average length of duration for outages. The System Average Interruption Duration Index, or SAIDI, in 2011 was 356 minutes, or roughly six hours. In 2012, the SAIDI number was reduced to 190 minutes, or just around three hours, or about 47 percent less than the prior year.
One of Delmarva Power’s initiatives in the wake of Sandy has been a vast tree-trimming program all over the region. Throughout the winter and spring, crews have been seen cutting tree limbs and branches away from power lines.
Stockbridge said this week the company is well aware of the public’s patience levels during prolonged outages, particularly after a storm has passed. For example, most customers have come to expect outages during major storms, but their level of acceptance declines rapidly when the weather event is over.
“When the storm is over and the sun is shining and the winds have died down, the clock starts ticking for us,” he said. “The patience level goes down rapidly as the conditions improve. We’re well aware of that and we do everything we can to get the power back on as quickly as possible. We try not to put our people in harm’s way during the storm because they’re dealing with high voltage in the middle of a hurricane, but when it is safe to do so, we direct all of our resources at getting the power restored as quickly as possible.”
The tree-trimming program is a way to limit the outages and minimize the impacts, but many have a short-term memory when they see their trees being cut back.
“We sometimes get resistance or hear complaints about cutting back or even cutting down trees when the sun is shining and there is no immediate threat, but sometimes they forget last year when they went without power during the storm,” said Stockbridge. “We understand that and we are only doing what’s important to minimize outages during frequent storms.”