If a substation fails during a storm…what happens?
Working within the Incident Command System (ICS) structure is nothing new for National Grid employees, who mobilize at the branch level at a moment’s notice when storm rooms open. But what happens when we need to get to an even more local level for restoration– like when damage impacts a major substation that feeds thousands of customers in one area?
For the New England electric ops team, an emergency exercise that simulated that very scenario this July in Brockton helped us to better answer the question and expand our preparedness for this kind of event. “We always hope these kinds of events won’t happen,” said VP of New England Electric Operations, Dan Bunszell, to the team, “but inevitably we know that they will.”
The simulation was unique because of the hyper-local response design called “decentralizing at a substation”– instead of operating from a storm room at a National Grid facility; this exercise challenged our teams to set-up a storm room right in the community impacted. It was a lesson in how to coordinate and mobilize quickly to bring back power in collaboration with community officials.
The simulation began early in the morning when exercise participants visited the site of a Brockton substation in a mock scenario where lightening had taken out a major transformer.
Those who participated worked with a local municipal official to set up a storm room in a Brockton veterans services building, similar to what they would do in a real-life scenario. This meant organizing people and equipment (like tables, laptops and printers) into a functioning workspace – allowing them to test communications systems in the same environment in which they’d be working.
The team also called in the Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC). The MEOC was made for situations like this, where we need resources closer to the scene of our response.
Using the MEOC’s mapping technology, the team was able to simulate how to pinpoint and track restoration efforts.
Injects were also provided to the team, asking them to be prepared to respond to various scenarios. Signs like these were posted on poles with challenges for the crews to address to get the distribution system back online.
Back in the mock municipal storm room, injects focused on communicating and collaborating between functions and teams. PowerOn was populated with information that the team used to make decisions and allocate resources. For example, in one inject a local hospital reported that they were operating on back-up generator power, and team leads were asked what they would do and with whom they would communicate to get the hospital back.
The day concluded with a discussion of best practices and lessons learned. “We can never be too prepared for events that would require us to decentralize at a substation, which is why we practice,” said Gary Lataille, lead manager for emergency planning. “The whole team did a great job, and we learned a lot about what we did well and what we could improve to prepare for this kind of response in the future.”