MANCHESTER, NH — In some circles, “the calm before the storm” is an actual thing, and not just hyperbole.
For example, in the hours before Wednesday’s storm was due to move into New Hampshire’s weather radar, Don Nourse, Eversource NH Manager for Distribution System Operations looked pretty calm as he explained how his road crews would be rolling out iPad technology for the first time.
Eversource invited Mayor Joyce Craig to come by before any snow materialized Wednesday morning for a walk-through of the new Integrated Electric Operations Center, to gain understanding of how the city’s power grid fits into the statewide system of service, and what happens when an outage happens.
“We’re staffed well and have proactively added resources. Our control centers are well staffed and ready to react to any emergencies we may have, and our entire troubleshooter workforce is scheduled around the clock,” says Nourse. “We’re ready to respond wherever we’re needed, and hopefully it won’t be as wet and heavy as some (regional) reports we’re getting.”
Bringing iPads online for the first time during this storm signals the company’s evolution to a fully-integrated electronic system across its tri-state network, one that extends from GPS tracking of service trucks in the field to a futuristic panoramic room-sized screen depicting the statewide electric system transmission and distribution, or Energy Management System. It’s a neon color-coded power grid on a black screen, each color signifying a different voltage class, measured in kilovolts.
“It’s like a map of New Hampshire tilted on its side,” says Eversource System Operations Director Brian Dickie, who gives a brief summary to the mayor as to how it all works.
He explains that system operators standing at each six-screen work station audit the system and adjust voltages throughout a storm event, rerouting power as needed.
“The big screen will depict what they’re doing on their individual consoles,” Dickie says.
System operators have statewide switching capabilities, says Joe Purington, Eversource NH vice president of electric operations.
“So like in October, when we had that cold snap, we got very close with supply for generation, so at some point they might need to shed a certain amount of load, and so these guys they can do what’s in the best interest of the system. They have a very serious responsibility when it comes to keeping the backbone of our system up and running,” Purington says.
“Even though it’s an automated system, Eversource says it’s always best for customers to report an outage, either by calling or using an online reporting system, or even texting the outage, says Purington.
In advance of this storm, Eversource has hundreds of line, tree, and service workers standing by, including contract workers and crews from Canada ready to respond to power outages. Because the storm is moving northward, regional Eversource crews in Massachusetts and Connecticut will have their hands full.
On the Outage Management System side, technicians are at the ready to field outage reports.
Eversource NH Distribution System Operations Supervisor Chris Piccolo provides the mayor with a preview of what’s on the horizon. He switches his array of six large vertical computer screens over to Connecticut, where a flurry of outages are being chronicled in real time, including a pulsating radar map of the storm.
The transition call center has been up and running with the latest technology since 2015, and has created a highly-efficient system, says Purington.
Once the storm hits, it’s all hands on deck. The many months of emergency management training each department goes through kicks in, and the building becomes a storm command center, with teams of technicians and experts working 12-hour shifts until the storm subsides.
It’s all designed to make sure when storm-related outages happen, power is restored as quickly as possible.
“We do 30-40 emergency preparedness drills around the state, so that people understand their roles and when it comes game time – it’s like the Belichick philosophy of practice, practice, practice – and so when the situation comes up you’re ready to react,” Purington says. “All the information we’re able to get from the field now through technology makes our lives a little easier and helps us dispatch our crews efficiently.”