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Akins discusses grid resiliency, strengthening efforts in Electric Perspectives magazine

by on January 13, 2014
Nick Akins, AEP chairman, president and chief executive officer, appears on the cover of the January/February edition of Electric Perspectives magazine, a publication of the Edison Electric Institute.

Nick Akins, AEP chairman, president and chief executive officer, is featured on the cover of the January/February 2014 edition of Electric Perspectives magazine, the publication of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI).

Authoring an article entitled “Securing and Strengthening the Grid,” Akins discusses in detail how the electric utility industry has changed following a number of significant weather events such as Hurricane Ike and Superstorm Sandy, and what companies are doing to revise and enhance strategies for storm response and restoration.

“The industry has a strong track record of maintaining high levels of reliability,” Akins said. “When power outages do occur, we respond quickly — and unlike any other industry — we can call on our peers to provide assistance when and where we need it. Our decades-old mutual assistance network is the cornerstone of our commitment to get the power back on as quickly as possible following a major incident.”

Akins told Electric Perspectives that — according to the Department of Energy — during the unprecedented restoration effort following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, an estimated 65,000 utility workers from across the United States and Canada helped restore power within two weeks to 99 percent of customers who could receive power. AEP sent about half its line and contract resources — more than 2,600 workers — to assist.

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, EEI, its member companies, along with municipal and cooperative organizations, gathered to discuss lessons learned from the event and came up with a number of suggestions for improvement. Akins said the result was the development of a new National Response Event framework. From that framework, the industry also created a new National Response Executive Committee, made up of senior utility executives from all regions of the country, to govern the process, and a National Mutual Assistance Resource Team  that will pool and allocate resources to best meet restoration needs in a major event.


“We partnered with federal and state agencies to begin putting in place processes that will improve the flow of information between utilities and government emergency personnel, expedite the movement of resources across state and national borders, and leverage the logistical support and security abilities that the military can provide during emergencies,” he told Electric Perspectives.

Moving forward, Akins said, states can explore several public policy issues, if they have not already, to help support the industry’s efforts:

  • increase utility system hardening to withstand extreme weather more effectively;
  • foster installation of microgrids in strategic locations to support rapid recovery of critical loads; and
  • continue to encourage the implementation of smart grid technologies.

Akins also noted that AEP has had great success with its “One Voice” communication process during major storm restoration events. The information communicated through One Voice, he said, includes:

  • number or percentage of customers restored;
  • pertinent weather information;
  • number of crews working on restoration or on their way to assist;
  • utility needs such as road clearing, security, and traffic control;
  • public safety messages; and
  • items of interest such as major areas restored, copper theft concerns, road conditions, etc.

“We share these updates internally and externally through e-mail, our websites and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube,” he said. “Our external affairs, community affairs and emergency preparedness coordinators share them directly with public officials and appropriate agencies.”

Building on best practices throughout the industry, Akins said AEP is focusing on three key areas for improvement over the next three years:

  • Implementing the Incident Command System (ICS). Numerous utilities are moving to this nationally used crisis management tool as a standard for responding to small and large emergencies and incidents.
  • Technology improvements. Introducing new tools and improving our systems to better manage our workload during major events and to provide more timely and accurate information to customers and other stakeholders.
  • Process improvements. Working to standardize our assessment process and implement a number of restoration process enhancements that will improve how we manage our crews and other resources.

Akins also noted that AEP joined 165 organizations this past fall to take part in GridEx II, a simulated physical and cyber attack that damages the bulk power system and causes widespread outages. The two-day exercise, conducted by North American Electric Reliability Corporation, included utilities from across North America, as well as U.S. government agencies and universities.

“As threats to the grid increase and become more sophisticated, we must continue our work to make the grid stronger, more reliable, and more resilient,” Akins concluded. “Just as important, we must continue to prepare for situations that could impact our ability to fulfill our core mission — reliably providing the power that enhances our customers’ lives and fuels our nation’s economy.”

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