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Challenges in Weathering the Storm

April 21, 2021

The number of major storm events, including hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires, nearly doubled in the last 20 years compared to the 20 years prior.

“From our perspective, it’s not a matter of if, it’s now a matter of when it’s time to have to deal with these situations,” Jay Cadman, Senior Vice President of Enterprise with IQGeo, said on a recent Fiber for Breakfast episode.

Data shows the frequency and severity of severe storms is getting worse, according to research by IQGeo. Cadman said 2020 was particularly notable when it comes to the frequency of major weather events with over 30 named hurricanes, wildfires that covered 4 million acres in California alone, severe levels of rain and flooding in central U.S. and record heat across the country.

“Even just the major disasters cost over $20 billion, in terms of damage,” Cadman noted.

Cadman said the main things that improve effectiveness in these severe weather situations are mobility and integration. “So, how you provide the right information into the hands of the techs in the field so that they can make the little decisions. And adding up all those little decisions together dramatically improves the effectiveness of restoration,” he said.

When it comes to preparing for the likelihood of a severe storm, utilities and broadband service providers come across the same frequent challenges. Cadman and his colleague Todd Kuty, IQGeo Director of Customer Integration, shared some of those challenges with the Fiber Broadband Association.

  1. Management of employee contact list and resource allocation

Kuty shared the story of one of IQGeo’s customers that is not exclusive to but has a lot of properties on the west coast. When a weather event occurs, that customer utilizes a geospatial contact list of its employees.

“If there is a fire situation or something that is going to affect the employees in a specific area, rather than blasting the entire organization with an email, the company will just draw around the area that is affected and only contact the employees located within that area,” Kuty explained.

He explained how utilizing geospatial information gives that customer more targeted ways to help employees avoid more challenging situations.

  1. Visibility of problems and severity levels

“Having real-time problem and severity level information is important all of the time,” Kuty said. “But, when you get into a non-business as usual situation like a storm, getting this information becomes increasingly hard.”

Kuty gave the following example. A company likely has a set number of analysts that support field techs at any given time. However, when a storm hits those analysts are going to be pulled in many different directions and getting through and getting information in a timely manner is not nearly as simple as it is outside of a weather event.

“Providing the techs with this kind of information to make decisions allows them to have a view of what’s going on regardless of whether or not they can contact the office,” he said.

  1. Internal and external activity

Considering the internal side, Kuty said in his near 30 years of experience, whenever he had a large storm situation there would be a breakdown into regions with people from each department in each region. To keep information current, field techs from each region would have to call in once every few hours to give an update on the status of the region.

“So, you can imagine the amount of resources that it takes to first, collect all of the information that you want to report on the call and second, having all of these people that are in the middle of a disaster or whatever they are dealing with have to get on a call to report what’s going on.”

Kuty said having all necessary information transparently and centrally located, and updated in real-time, eliminates the need for that kind of activity.

On the external side, he recalled the utility outage that resulted from Hurricane Sandy a few years ago.

“What happened was no one really had visibility as to what was going on,” Kuty explained. “I was working at Cablevision at the time, and we had just brought in a geospatial mobility product, and we were actually the ones providing information to the utility companies on where their outages were. What came of that was a basic edict that the MSOs needed to work more with utility companies and make things happen on that front to avoid these kinds of situations.”

Kuty said that collaboration benefits both companies because MSOs are going to get the power restored to their customers faster.

  1. Effective power management and restoration

“I worked for a company in New England and we had five regions. If one region went out, they would pull all the generators they could from other regions to bring to the affected area and try to power up the system to maintain some kind of continuity,” Kuty recalled. “So, you can imagine that’s kind of a logistical nightmare.”

Supervisors spent an ordinate amount of time tracking generators and refueling them and just sitting on them, Kuty said. IQGeo developed an application that automatically logs refuels and then tickets and sends out technicians to refill generators, rather than having to sit on them all the time.

“It’s also much easier when you know where all of your generators are at any given time, just by looking at your application,” he said.

  1. Capturing status, fixes and follow-up actions

Kuty said this was an area he frequently ran into problems in the past as both a technician and in the field.

“You have a situation where you need to make a fix for a customer or even a number of customers, so you do a temporary fix--you want to get everybody back up. And then two years later you realize that temporary fix has become permanent, and nobody has fixed it.” Kuty said.

As a result, there are various areas of one’s network that you introduced weaknesses into it by not implementing a complete fix on, and those weaknesses may cause problems down the road and affect the integrity of your network.

“I think it’s really important to effectively capture what you’re doing for temporary fixes and also to create the mechanism to make sure that someone has gone back and fixed the problem, within a timely manner.”

“These five areas are all part and parcel to one thing, which is keeping customers online and minimizing effects on customers,” Kuty said.

Over those five challenges and suggested solutions, Cadman said there are common threads: self-service with inflammation when necessary, collaboration with external entities and foreign crews and a focus on the little things.

“Everyone has a storm plan,” Cadman said. “But the little things make the difference in terms of how we believe in our customers and manage storms, and that has a knock-on effect. It’s ongoing.”


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Written by:
Mary Cullen

 
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