March 18, 2014

Southern Company Outage Communications Tools Tested by Harsh Winter Storms

The communications tools we implemented for Southern Companies Gulf Power and Georgia Power have faced their first major tests in the past couple of months, as severe ice storms battered the southeastern United States.

The storm on January 28-29 challenged Gulf Power’s outage map, while the storm that started on February 11 provided an even bigger challenge for Georgia Power’s outage map and alert system. The outage maps for both Gulf Power and Georgia Power are provided by the iFactor Storm Center™ product, and Georgia Power’s alert system is provided by the iFactor Notifi® product.

Gulf Power – January 2014

Gulf Power’s outage map was viewed by over 30,000 unique visitors on January 28-29, with Safari, Android, and Chrome being the most popular browsers for accessing the map. In addition, more than half of the visits on Safari were from Gulf Power’s Facebook page, indicating that customers attempting to contact the utility on social media used the outage map to get additional information.

A majority of visits to the map – about 81.4% – were from mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), while about 18.6% of visits were from desktop browsers. The average visit to the site was less than 2 minutes, which supports the idea that outage maps are one of the fastest ways for customers to get information about power outages.

Gulf Power outage map from 01-29-14

Georgia Power – February 2014

The ice storm that began impacting Georgia Power customers on February 12 was “one of the most severe ice and snow storms to reach the state in the last decade,” according to a press release that the Company issued on February 16.

Georgia Power’s outage map was an important resource for customers during the storm: between February 12 and February 16, the outage map received nearly 830,000 visits from over 450,000 unique visitors. Of those visits, about 56% were from mobile devices.

 

Georgia Power outage map with weather from February 2014
Georgia Power’s outage map from February 12 shows the large number of outages, as well as the storms, ice, and snow affecting a large area of the Southeast.

 

Georgia-Power-map-alert-banner
Georgia Power used the Alert banner on its outage map to provide customers with general updates on restoration progress.

 

Local news Tweets - Georgia Power outage map
Local news sites provided links to the outage map on Twitter.

 

In addition to its outage map, Georgia Power uses the iFactor Notifi alerts and preference management system to provide automated messages to its customers about topics including outages. Between February 10 and February 17, the alert system had about 16,000 new customer registrations, an increase of over 267% from the pre-storm level. The system sent nearly 8,000 proactive outage messages by SMS, email, and IVR, and it received over 2,400 outage reports via SMS between February 11 and February 13.

 

Georgia Power Facebook photo - tree on power lines
Georgia Power posted photos of storm damage to Facebook to help customers understand some of the reasons for delayed restoration.

Approximately 8,200 Southern Company employees, contractors, and mutual assistance partners supported the restoration. As of 8:00 p.m. on February 13, Georgia Power had restored service to 480,000 customers since the beginning of the storm, while 120,000 customers remained without power. By 8:00 p.m. on February 14, those numbers had changed to 640,000 customers restored and 60,000 customers without power.

These figures demonstrate both the scope of the storm and one of the particular challenges of restoration after a severe storm: the aftermath of the storm continued to cause outages while Georgia Power was working to restore power. By February 15, three days after the start of the storm, Georgia Power had restored 99 percent of the nearly 700,000 total outages.

Outcomes

For both Gulf Power and Georgia Power, these ice storms required sustained coordination of response efforts, involving miles of roads and power lines and thousands of workers and pieces of equipment. We at iFactor are proud to have been a part of those efforts, and to work with Gulf Power and Georgia Power to continue improving their lines of communication with their customers.