Planning enables central stations to survive Sandy

Despite widespread power and phone outages, redundancy helps central stations weather the storm

For all of the dealers in affected areas, it is too early to have conducted post-mortem debriefings. “There will be an impact,” Petrow said, noting that no new installs have been done for some time. Sales people were handling other chores, so that end of the business is going to take a hit. Operationally, however, Vector was handling all calls even though one central station remained on generator power for almost a week.

“We had our storm policies and procedures in place. They worked in the past. They worked this time,” Hertel said. “The only thing we’d do different is order in a bigger variety of pizzas.”

In the days and weeks after the storm, Rapid Response was dealing with the aftermath of the storm. Despite the massive number of alarms, Hertel said they did not have to clear anything and nothing got blown.

“We are used to dealing with local thunderstorms,” McMullen said. “This storm covered 1,000 miles.”

Another key is to have staff prepared to get to the station to handle the alarms coming in.

Given the scope of things, central stations faced a double-whammy. Alarm traffic was outrageous. Some police departments simply stopped answering phones or put security firms on hold. “They were going crazy,” McMullen acknowledged.

On top of that, calls came in from people asking whether there was an alarm at their vacant vacation property at the shore. Those customers who got through to the central station often wanted to chat about things they were experiencing: blackouts, transformers popping, trees falling.

McMullen said one thing they will do differently in the future is to post a greeting asking people with normal service or billing questions to call back later or to access the data on the web on their MPower system or through their MPower-ME, the mobile edition that allows retrieving data by cell phone.

“We will make little tweaks to the pre-message,” McMullen said. He had nothing but praise for the dealers and suppliers who pulled together during the crisis.

“Our thoughts go out to the families and businesses affected during this time, as well as our condolences for the loss of life that came with the surge of the storm, and as those brace for the devastation of the aftermath—we continue to stand ready to support and serve,” Courville said.

Petrow said that employees’ lives were affected. “Our people were wonderful,” she said.

While most service providers echoed Courville’s sentiments, it is thorough planning and actions ahead of an event that make a difference. Planning is the key to handling any such outage. One area that is important is having relationships with technical vendors who are on standby during critical times.