Leading the Recovery After Natural Disaster

Business Operations By: Julie Shoop

The Edison Electric Institute shifted into high gear as Superstorm Sandy approached in the fall of 2012, coordinating a nationwide super-response to a superstorm that left millions in the dark. In a matter of days, the lights were coming back on. Here's how they did it.

How do you get the lights back on for 10 million people?

That was the enormous challenge facing the electrical power industry a year ago in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the United States. With millions in the dark in more than 20 mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, utility companies from around the country rushed to provide power restoration help, coordinated by the Edison Electric Institute's Mutual Assistance Network, winner of a 2013 Summit Award in ASAE's Power of A competition.

EEI had a well-established network of regional groups that routinely coordinated requests for assistance from neighboring utilities responding to power outages. But it had never faced anything like Sandy. In the days before the storm hit, as forecasts began to make clear the scale of the coming disaster, EEI reached out to the federal government to ramp up an all-hands response, says EEI President Tom Kuhn.

What followed was a weekend of conference calls among Kuhn and others at EEI, Department of Energy officials, and, on the night the storm made landfall in New Jersey, President Obama.

The large-scale public-private partnership proved critical to power restoration. About 67,000 workers from 80 utilities in all 50 states and Canada contributed to the effort, with substantial logistical help from the military and federal agencies.

"We had Air Force planes flying bucket trucks—those bucket trucks are huge—along with crews in from the West Coast," Kuhn says. The National Guard cleared roads, and an EEI executive practically took up residence at Federal Emergency Management Agency. Half of the outages were restored within 48 hours.

"I think we learned a lot of lessons, particularly how essential the federal partnership was," says Kuhn, a year later. "The storms coming along these days are more violent and more frequent. We have to look at bigger areas where you have to share resources. We have to figure out ways to do things quicker and more efficiently."

Julie Shoop is VP/editor-in-chief of Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Let There Be Lights."]

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop is editor-in-chief of Associations Now in Washington, DC.