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Report Cites Edison's Problems With Communications, Preparedness

An independent report on November's windstorms suggests Edison could have had power restored as much as two days sooner than it did. It highlights multiple areas where the utility can improve.

An independent report on Southern California Edison's response to the November windstorm faults the leadership of the utility for software troubles that led to inaccurate information, the lack of a command center that could accomodate its increased number of working crews, and underestimating the magnitude of the emergency it faced.

The severe windstorm resulted in nearly 225,000 customers being without power at the peak of the event, and more than 400,000 customers experienced at least some power loss. The wind knocked down approximately 250 poles, 60,000 feet of wire and 100 transformers—most of them in the greater San Gabriel Valley.

While the report does give Edison credit for bringing a sufficient number of resources to handle power restoration and suggests the utility's physical infrastructure was well-prepared to handle the full force of the storm, most of its recommendations suggest Edison was not prepared for how to quickly respond to an emergency of the wind storm's magnitude.

The report details 80 findings and 70 recommendations— stating SCE could have shortened the restoration period by possibly two days.  It was commissioned by Edison and was carried out by an independent consultant.  The report, along with an internal one, can be read in full on the right.

The report's findings and recommendations include:

  • While Edison had a “reasonable” number of resources deployed in the windstorm response, they were “not used optimally.”
  • The company failed to identify a single operations center for coordinating its response, instead using multiple sites.
  • The utility misclassified the event and “did not place enough emphasis on its significance,” according to the report. Edison classified it as a Category 2 event instead of a Category 3, which would have brought more Edison leaders into the decision-making fray.
  • Edison never identified a single “incident commander” to handle all aspects of the response which disrupted the utility’s ability to communicate with the community. 
  • The utility failed to follow standard disaster procedure by suspending scheduled work and divert those resources to disaster response.
  • Crews working on restoring power frequently had to drive back to the nearest command center or headquarters to give data on power restoration because the crews were unable to close out work orders using the mobile data technology units provided to them by Edison.
  • Software used by the crews had delays of around 15 minutes when new data about power restoration was entered, which contributed to Edison's lack of up-to-date information about outages.
  • The limitations and slow response times of the software resulted in inaccurate estimates of how long it would take to restore power
  • Because the outage maps and automated call center information was geared to that software's operating system, those inaccurate estimates were widely disseminated to the public.
  • Edison did not have a planned staging area to accomodate the massive number of crew members it needed.  The utility was able to get permission to use the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, but that facility does not the necessary bathroom or food preparation facilities, a potential health hazard that could have resulted in widespread crew sickness, the report suggests.
  • The report says Edison should have considered booking hotel rooms for crew members working long hours whose home was a far drive away - the utility brought crews in from all over Southern California.
  • The report does credit Edison for the low number of fallen utility poles - about 0.07 percent of Edison poles in significant wind areas fell down.  The report compared that number to several Category 1 hurricane events (based on the wind speeds the area experienced) and found Edison did better than other utilities in those events
  • Peak outages—more than 220,000—occurred on December 1 at 4 a.m. Within 24 hours, SCE had restored slightly more than 47% of customers out at peak
  • When compared against other storm responses, SCE’s seven day restoration was longer than a majority of comparable events but not the longest, with seven comparable events that took longer to restore all customers.
  • The number of poles that have to be replaced after an event is a good indicator of the amount of damage that a utility’s system experienced. SCE replaced 1.1 poles per thousand customers out at peak, which is slightly above median for similar storms.
  •  It appears that SCE’s current plans are focused on restoring power and do not adequately recognize the importance of other responsibilities, such as communications, planning and forecasting, according to the report.
  • SCE has not recently conducted a system-wide functional exercise to stress test its emergency response structure.
  •  SCE conducts after-action reviews regularly, but does not appear to have a strong process to drive implementation of lessons learned.

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