Tracking Hurricane Outages Online

Dominion outage map, 3:00 p.m. Thursday

by James A. Bacon

Last month Dominion Virginia Power rolled out an interactive map that allows the public to report and track power outages and restoration. A nice touch, I thought at the time, but no big deal. That was before Hurricane Joaquin was bearing down on Virginia. All of a sudden, I’m very interested.

According to J.D. Power’s 2014 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, communications about power outages is an important factor influencing customer satisfaction. Ratings for the industry have improved steadily over the past six years, J.D. Powers said, as companies have taken to communicating outage information via utility-initiated phone calls, emails, text messages and social media sites.

Dominion has gotten the message.

“Next to energy, the most important thing we can provide to customers is information,” said Becky Merritt, vice president of Customer Service in the September press release. “This new outage map provides greater access to the information customers need to help us restore their power quickly in the event of an outage. It also provides information to help manage their lives and reduce the inconvenience.”

New features include:

  • compatibility with most smartphones and tablets;
  • icons indicating the number and general locations of work requests;
  • customized views with street-level or satellite imagery and live weather radar;
  • improved search options, including searching by landmarks or road intersections;
  • faster updates— information refreshes every 15 minutes;
  • option to bookmark multiple outage locations to follow restoration progress; and
  • better tracking of a specific outage through the outage reporting system.

The outage map can be found here.

With an estimated three days before Juaquin arrives, Dominion is bracing itself. Hey, guys, special word of advice: Pay close attention to the Countryside subdivision in Henrico County. It took eleven days for electricity to be restored at the Bacon’s Rebellion global command headquarters after Hurricane Isabel. I’ll be blogging the hurricane — but only if the electricity stays on!

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5 responses to “Tracking Hurricane Outages Online”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    It’s a good first effort! not sure why they have group nearby outages into “projects”… sounds more like internal company verbiage.

    and I’m sure they have a phone/tablet “APP” in the works as the web-based version “adapted” for phones/tablets is a bit slow and probably uses more computer resources than some phone have.

    Most folks these days during a power outage are going to be using their phones to check status – and ideally – you’d want an app to use that person’s location to quickly present them with the status at their location.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    One of the other things you notice if you turn off the weather base layer and turn on the Dominion service area layer -is just how fragmented the electric utility service areas are.

    It’s not straight line boundaries – it’s totally disorganized without any apparent rhyme or reason.

    how it got to be that way – would be an interesting story…

    it could be something simple – like the areas that Dominion initially decided was profitable to serve with the non-Dominion areas left to the rural cooperatives to figure out.

    1. Rowinguy Avatar

      Larry, your surmise as to how service areas developed is generally correct. Coops arose where customer density was not sufficient to interest investor-owned utilities to extend their services.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        With a few exceptions, it’s quite comparable to how the telephone industry developed. The Bell System served the more densely populated areas and refused to interconnect with any local rivals. That was finally straightened out with the 1914 Kingsbury Commitment between AT&T and the US DoJ. AT&T agreed to buy out certain rivals; sell its investment to other rivals (over time); to interconnect with all local companies to provide long distance service; and not to acquire any more non-Bell companies without federal government approval. The Depression slowed the sale of AT&T shares of some companies, e.g., Rochester, NY and Lincoln, NE. There was consolidation among some non-Bell companies, e.g., GTE and United Telephone. Very rural areas formed coops after Uncle Sam offered below cost loans through the Department of Agriculture. Long distance rates were priced well above cost to subsidize local service. Quite a few parallels between the two industries.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Used the map several times and it has a problem .. with “projects” or I have a problem interpreting.

    at the larger scale level – “projects” are combined and when you zoom in – the projects as well as individual sites are broken out – but there is no rhyme or reason as to how things are broken out and the top level info about how many outages are associated with projects – are not carried down to the broke out icons …

    so , for instance, you might see 53 projects associated with 1500 people but when you zoom in – the 53 are broken out into other projects – but at that point you have no idea about how many outages are associated with each project unless you click on each project – and there may be 5 or 10 … and so you have no idea where the bulk of the outages are geographically until you click on the lowest icon level – the event.

    this is not truly conveying useful information until you get down to the actual event and even then – you have no idea of the scope of the outages geographically.

    what you’d like is to know at the top level how many outages associated with the project icon.. then when you zoom in and that icon is propagated into sub-icons – you’d like to know for each one of them on one map – how the outages are allocated geographically without having to click on each icon to find out.

    Rappahannock Electric’s outage map does not have the “project” functionality but instead shows colored icons for EACH outage and the color denotes size of the outage. So you can look at the map as a whole and get a good idea of the scope and scale of the outages… without having to click on individual icons.

    here is their map:

    I don’t think the average citizen cares about the designation of “projects” but rather wants to easily and quickly see the scope and severity of outages – geographically – on one map – without clicking individual icons unless they want more specific details.

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