New technologies are a fulcrum for RMAG successPosted for ARCOS LLC
- Posted on June 18, 2018
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During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, RMAGs sprang into action to help utility companies and customers. According to the Edison Electric Institute, “More than 10,000 workers were dedicated to the Harvey response and recovery effort, and mutual assistance crews from at least 21 states provided support in Texas and Louisiana.” The RMAG, or regional mutual assistance group, has been around for at least 60 years. The groups give utilities (faced with anything from a regional event to a National Response Event) a mission-critical way to identify, mobilize and manage resources. There are seven RMAGs recognized by EEI across the United States. Each has a leadership team, typically volunteer positions named on a regular cycle.
Without RMAGs, utilities would compete for the same resources, which would delay restoration for customers. Most utility professionals know the RMAGs exist. But the processes and technologies behind the scenes are less known.
Part of the RMAGs’ work is monitoring weather across the U.S. If, for example, a large storm is forecasted for the Midwest, any number of utilities might contact the Midwest Mutual Assistance Group to request additional linemen and tree trimmers. That request goes to the RMAG’s leadership who orchestrate a conference call for RMAG members to discuss requests and offer resources they can spare. The RMAG committee acts as an arbitrator between the utilities.
Until recently, RMAG committee members captured discussions and requests via pen and paper or a spreadsheet, which hampered collaboration and reporting. To resolve that, EEI sponsored a cloud-based, collaborative workspace called the Resource Allocation Management Program for Utility Personnel, or RAMP-UP.
Here’s how RAMP-UP works: Concurrent users at impacted utilities enter requests, and non-impacted members of the RMAG enter resource responses. Then, through a weighted algorithm, the system calculates an equitable allocation based on the level of trouble and outages.
According to a report from EEI, American Electric Power Vice President Tom Kirkpatrick remarked, “The RAMP-UP tool is an absolute winner [and] saves so much time and streamlines processes.”
Even with a technology like RAMP-UP, RMAG leaders have to keep their peers on the same page and prioritize requests. There’s also room for additional technology to sharpen the process.
For example, when a utility sends its employees to offer aid, that’s a straightforward matter. But when a utility taps its contractors for a mutual assistance response, there are multiple communications and information hand-offs to ensure everyone knows who’s on the way. To eliminate confusion around the status of requests, some utilities are testing software systems that automate the manual process of electronically exchanging rosters containing detailed information of both personnel and equipment.
Once resources start rolling, there are more challenges. Although utility trucks generally have GPS units on board, utilities requesting resources do not typically use GPS information to track a convoy in real time. With new mapping tools and apps now on the market, a utility requesting resources could see a convoy’s ETA and, if necessary, layer information about local flooding and road closures on top of the map to improve the overall situational awareness.
Mutual aid is an iterative process, and the RMAGs make that effort easier. Transparency is a key to making mutual assistance work; RMAG members and new technologies have a role to play.