Hurricane Sandy's wide wind field could affect much of the East Coast, and utility companies are preparing for power outages. One pioneering program could help. But what about drones?
With utility companies analyzing potential storm tracks for hurricane Sandy and deciding just how many utility crews to request to prepare for fallen power lines, Seth Guikema could be their best friend.
He is part of a pioneering attempt to help power companies allocate their men and equipment accurately by predicting how many people will be without power and where most outages will occur.
With forecasters predicting hurricane Sandy's landfall anywhere from Delaware to Massachusetts, his job is tough. But it is one part of the effort to improve upon power companies' widely criticized response to hurricane Irene last year, when hundreds of thousands of customers along the East Coast went without power for days. Some utilities are even talking about using drone aircraft to diagnose problem areas more quickly.
"We're seeing a lot better coordination this time between government and private utilities," says Mark Merritt, president of Witt Associates, a public safety and crisis management consulting firm in Washington. "There's a lot of effort going on right now to understand what the needs are and where." [Editor's note: The original version did not have the correct name for Witt Associates.]
Getting power back fast after an outage is a balancing act. Utilities managers who get it right have just enough men and trucks to do the job quickly, but not so many that they waste money. Get it wrong, and you feel the wrath of consumers.
Using a computer model, Dr. Guikema and his team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are trying to help improve this decisionmaking process. Knowing how many people will lose power and where depends a lot on the quality of the data available. But Sandy is making that difficult.