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I.T., Not Just Elbow Grease, Help Utility's Recovery

By Bob Violino Print this article Print

The electricity distributor restored service in September 2005 to its Mississippi customers within 12 days, instead of 28. A system to find critical documents offered an assist.

Talk about being proactive.

Southern Co., the energy company that produces electricity for much of the Gulf Coast region, began preparing for Hurricane Katrina more than a year before the storm struck.

In fact, even before Katrina's predecessor, Ivan, roared across Alabama in September 2004, Southern began taking steps to meet worst-case scenarios, relying on an enterprise content management platform to ensure that engineers could get immediate access to design plans of electrical substations and other power equipment.

Workers at two utilities under the umbrella of Southern Co.—Gulf Power and Mississippi Power—took drawings of substations from the company's new content management database and burned the information onto CDs. The company's substation design group then distributed the CDs and laptop PCs to field engineers responsible for each of the substations.

After hurricanes Ivan and Katrina hit, engineers in the field were able to immediately access the design plans to begin work to restore power, including repairing damaged substations. Previously, engineers or maintenance workers would have to physically track down plans from a file, a process that took an average of two hours, according to Holly Godfrey, technical consultant at Southern Co. With the new setup, documents could be obtained within minutes.

While some workers viewed data to rebuild assets in the affected regions, others used the plans to buy specific parts and equipment. That enabled them to restore power faster, Godfrey says.

In fact, after Hurricane Katrina, all of Mississippi Power's 195,000 customers lost electricity, and two-thirds of the subsidiary's transmission and distribution was damaged or destroyed, according to utility executives. Power was restored to Mississippi Power customers within 12 days. Initially, utility workers estimated the work would be done within four weeks, according to a published report.

Southern CEO David Ratcliffe said the company's quick response to the outage was the result of several factors—most important, the company was prepared to respond to a disaster in its hurricane-prone territory. Though he did not single out the content management system, Ratcliffe on Nov. 16 told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: "At a high level, our success can be attributed to extensive pre-planning, excellent execution of a well-defined plan and significant help."

Story Guide:
I.T., Not Just Elbow Grease, Help Utility's Recovery

  • Untangling an Unplanned Legacy
  • Making Related Content Connect
  • Applying Tradition of Reliability to I.T.
  • Southern Co. Base Case

    Next page: Untangling an Unplanned Legacy

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    This article was originally published on 2006-01-14
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