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Calling all Drones and Chatbots

By Blog, News Articles


What would the utility industry look like if we could call out drones to assess damage and chatbots to staff call centers? Picture service centers and substations with mini-hangars containing drones preprogrammed to assess circuits, feeders and other assets. A storm center manager could activate the drones and collect images and data via integrated damage-assessment software. The drones would only need to report something as broken because the damage assessment software would identify the asset and electronically deliver the details to an OMS or WMS to help generate a restoration plan.

At the same time, dispatchers could launch call-center chatbots as the OMS reported outages. As customers began contacting the utility for information about outages and ETRs, the chatbots would peel away time that humans would normally need to field customer queries.

Most utilities recognize drones can play a role in expediting inspection of infrastructure like transmission lines. And that familiarity is leading utilities to deploy drones after major events, too.

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ARCOS Software and Processes Certified by SOC 2 Type II Audit

By Blog, Press Releases


Columbus, Ohio – August 15, 2018

ARCOS® LLC successfully completed a Service Organization Control (SOC) 2 Type II audit for the period October 1, 2017, through March 31, 2018, to ensure the software maker is protecting its utility industry customers. Plante Moran, PLLC, a public accounting and consulting firm, conducted the independent SOC examination and evaluated and tested ARCOS’s internal operational controls and processes.

The six-month audit led to a certification, which ARCOS received in June 2018. The certification expires in June 2019. ARCOS has made its SOC 2 Type II reports available for clients and prospective customers since passing its first audit in 2014.

As hackers increasingly threaten power grids in the U.S. and abroad, software providers that serve utility companies must be vigilant about protecting their customers. According to a May 2016 article from The Hill, “There are more reported cyber incidents in the energy industry than in healthcare, finance, transportation, water and communications combined …” Read More

Why the utility industry needs to play ‘Moneyball’

By Blog


By Ted Schneider

In an earlier post on Energy Central, a writer proposed new ways utilities could apply proven technologies for tracking workers. Let’s add location services to that list. Many of us carry a smartphone, which, of course, features location services for day-to-day business or personal apps.

By writing an algorithm for the location services feature of a smartphone, tech guys can set the ping rate (or echo protocol) for anywhere from a few seconds to a half hour or more. Why bother doing that? Imagine you’re a damage assessor. As you drive a circuit and get closer to a target, your smartphone ping rate increases. Consequently, alerting the storm center where you are and how quickly you’re moving from asset to asset. Or let’s say you’re a mutual assistance crew headed to help a neighboring utility. As you close in on your destination, we speed up the ping rate to give the storm center a more accurate ETA for you and your crew. Read More

Contractors, tech and education will bridge workforce gap

By Blog


Like all skilled trades across the U.S., the electric industry is finding it hard to fill openings with qualified workers. The nature of the jobs for which utilities need workers is changing, too. While there’s clearly a need for O&M personnel and linemen, there’s also a need for newer roles such as data analysts and cybersecurity specialists. Utilities face a threefold challenge:

  • Recruiting for traditional roles, such as line workers, mechanics and pipefitters
  • Broadening the skill set of those traditional roles as evolving information and communication technology (ICT) affects the job site
  • Predicting the kind of workers needed as emerging and renewable technologies take hold

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ARCOS Heroes: A business change creates a bottleneck, then opportunity at PSEG Long Island

By Blog

PSEG Truck

Jeff Plackis is a staff engineer with PSEG Long Island’s Emergency Planning department in Hicksville, NY. According to its website, PSEG Long Island is a subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated (NYSE:PEG), a publicly traded diversified energy company with annual revenues of $9.1 billion. PSEG Long Island operates the Long Island Power Authority’s electric transmission and distribution system under a 12-year contract. Until last year, PSEG Long Island used the ARCOS Callout Suite as the way to call-out troubleshooters, overhead linemen, underground splicers and substation mechanics for after-hours emergencies. Plackis changed that.  

As PSEG Long Island worked to continually enhance its Emergency Restoration response,  retooling the process of activating employees for their storm roles fell to Plackis. He knew he couldn’t manage the job effectively with his current tools, but he also knew enough about ARCOS to see an opportunity for improvement. Read More

New technologies are a fulcrum for RMAG success

By Blog

During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, RMAGs sprang into action to help utility companies and customers. According to the Edison Electric Institute, “More than 10,000 workers were dedicated to the Harvey response and recovery effort, and mutual assistance crews from at least 21 states provided support in Texas and Louisiana.” The RMAG, or regional mutual assistance group, has been around for at least 60 years. The groups give utilities (faced with anything from a regional event to a National Response Event) a mission-critical way to identify, mobilize and manage resources. There are seven RMAGs recognized by EEI across the United States. Each has a leadership team, typically volunteer positions named on a regular cycle.

Without RMAGs, utilities would compete for the same resources, which would delay restoration for customers. Most utility professionals know the RMAGs exist. But the processes and technologies behind the scenes are less known.

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Automating damage assessment could shave up to $400,000 off a storm

By Blog

Let’s assume, on average, a full-time equivalent (FTE) during a restoration costs between $2,000 and $3,000 per day, including equipment and lodging. Let’s also assume a utility calls in 1,000 additional FTEs – everyone from linemen to vegetation specialists – to help with restoration. With a manual, open-loop process (meaning damage assessors are marking up paper maps, crews are waiting on material and job packets) the damage assessment takes three days. Automating the assessment process (i.e., getting electronic feeder maps, digitally marking up damaged equipment and submitting electronically) could cut up to two days off the assessment time. Conservatively speaking that’s an improvement of 10 percent, equating to nearly $400,000 cut from a five-day storm.

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Three tips for selling execs on the power of the incident command system

By Blog

By Ann Steeves

Emergencies happen every day in the utility industry. Whether a car hits a pole or a water main breaks, utility personnel, law enforcement and emergency medical services often arrive on the scene within moments of one another. The utility person who arrives on the scene and introduces themself as the incident commander and asks to develop joint incident objectives is a step ahead of utilities that don’t speak the common language of first responders. Read More

Co-ops attack SAIDI, boost safety with automated callout

By Blog

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity sales growth among co-ops is surpassing the electric utility industry as a whole. EIA research shows the industry saw a more than one percent decline from 2015 to 2016, whereas co-op sales rose by about .50 percent. That statistic stands out in a report titled “America’s Electric Cooperatives,” which the NRECA posted to its website this spring.

The association’s report also states 84 percent of U.S. electric co-ops had a net increase in members (i.e., 295,995) in 2016, which is the most recent year reported. An uptick in customers, while always good news, can affect a utility’s System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI), which is the total annual duration of outage interruptions per customer. The nature of co-ops means employees regularly go the extra mile to restore power because their customers are neighbors too. When the scale of restoration requires more people than currently available, technology can play a role. Read More

It takes a ‘village’ to electrify a village

By Blog

Jim Nowak’s recent column in Electric Light & Power “No Longer Going it Alone: Outage Restoration Requires Relationship” about forging relationships to improve restoration and response really hit home as I read T&D World’s article “First Responders Join FPL for its Annual Storm Drill.” The T&D World article explains how FPL tested 3,000 employees last month on responding to an event of the same magnitude as Irma. FPL included Florida’s governor, industry leaders and first responders.

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