Managing Incidents in Energy and Utility Companies
The Need for Incident Management
Several challenges impact customers and operations of utilities and energy companies, including aging infrastructure, cybersecurity threats, inclement weather, operational failures and transmission interruptions. These challenges can cause prolonged service disruptions, potentially leading to customer attrition and irreversible damage to businesses. Responding quickly and efficiently to incidents is critical to minimize damages or contain potentially dangerous scenarios.
In this blog, we discuss current incident management practices that prevail in the energy and utilities industry. We also discuss a case study involving a leading energy company that uses OnPage to manage its incidents, detailing how OnPage accelerates response time for them by 85%.
Incident management in Utilities and Energy Companies
Incidents in utilities and energy companies are managed through established processes, procedures, and technologies. The following are common steps and strategies used by companies to manage incidents:
Incident reporting and response: The success of incident management hinges on the first step, incident reporting and response. Companies have established protocols, which include guidelines on identifying an incident, determining the severity, its location and any immediate actions that need to be taken to mitigate the situation. Once incidents are reported, companies mobilize their response teams to respond and resolve the issue.
Incident Investigation: Companies conduct post-incident investigations to determine the root cause of the incident. This involves analyzing the incident trail, speaking to the responders and witnesses, etc. The objective of this investigation is to uncover the cause and tease out trends to prevent recurring episodes.
Communication and Coordination: Communication and coordination are critical when an incident occurs. Utilities and energy companies use various communication channels, such as email, phone, text, phone app, etc to communicate during an event. The company may also commission a third-party call center to facilitate the repose process, activating the right responders into action.
Incident Management Plan: Utilities and energy companies develop plans that outline the procedures and resources needed to resolve incidents. The plan details roles and responsibilities, tools available, communication protocols and procedures for managing the response process.
Technology: Technology plays a critical role in ensuring incidents are seamlessly resolved. Companies use a range of tools, including communication and critical alerting tools to respond to incidents quickly and effectively.
Managing Incident Risks in Energy and Utilities
Complying with regulations and compliance requirements requires utility and energy companies to respond promptly to service disruptions.
They must be equipped with a solution that enables them to quickly detect and triage incidents. This solution must be capable of:
- Facilitating critical communication – promptly drawing field engineer’s attention to critical alerts by delivering them as distinguishable, loud, persistent alerts on phones.
- Presenting a platform to collaborate and mobilize the right teams into action
- Providing real-time incident response visibility
- Generating post-event response reports
- Sending out mass notifications in a few clicks to keep stakeholders informed
- Presenting an escalation and redundancy engine that can elevate the alert to the next oncall technician when the first technician is unavailable
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How OnPage Can Assist with Managing Incidents
OnPage is widely used by field technicians, IT organizations, customer support and facility management units in energy and utility companies to accelerate incident response. OnPage orchestrates the distribution of alerts to the right on-call technician, wherever they are.
The OnPage benefits include:
Automate the process of alert delivery to the right on-call technician or field engineer based on pre-defined rules, on-call schedules and routing policies. Critical messages or incidents are delivered as loud, alert-until-read, persistent alerts that even override the silent switch.
Corral the right technicians or engineers into action by equipping them with a dedicated messaging and alerting application on their phones, enabling seamless coordination of their response efforts.
Organizations gain the ability to automatically escalate alerts and live calls to the next person in line when the first on-call technician doesn’t respond.
Oncall scheduling/ Roster Management
Gain flexible, fail-safe and agile scheduling/roster management capabilities. Set up on-call rotations and escalations. Provide visibility into on-call schedules for field staff. Make it easy for authorized personnel to update schedules on the go, democratizing the on-call scheduling process.
Real-time reporting and post-event analysis
Analyze incident response time with real-time reporting. After an incident is resolved, access detailed incident reports and uncover potential gaps in incident handling.
Mass notify stakeholders
Deliver mass notifications to stakeholders, including residents and senior management, via SMS, email and voice calls to keep them apprised of the situation.
Create, manage and grant administration permissions
The system administrator has the ability to create organization operators and customize their permissions. Operators can be granted various privileges, such as creating regular groups and escalation groups, managing contacts, groups and schedules, and accessing incident reports as needed.
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How OnPage facilitates incident management for:
Case Study 1: A multinational energy company
In this section, we discuss how a leading multinational pipeline and energy company that operates pipelines throughout Canada and the US, transporting crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids uses OnPage to facilitate their incident management.
OnPage optimizes two crucial processes for them. The first is the communication of critical incidents in case of a fire emergency at a refinery or pipeline, and the second is the mobilization of the appropriate field engineers when a mechanical issue arises in the pipelines.
Before OnPage, the company used call centers for incident reporting. When a pipeline issue occurred, an on-site field technician would call the helpdesk for assistance. The helpdesk would gather all information, assess the severity of the incident and refer to an Excel schedule to determine who was on call. Delays occurred if the on-call schedule had not been updated to reflect a schedule swap, or if the call wasn’t directed to the appropriate service engineer.
During fire emergencies, on-site staff called a helpdesk associate who repeatedly called on-call mechanical engineers until someone responded, causing delays and errors. These inefficiencies hindered the company’s ability to respond promptly and effectively to critical incidents.
Through the implementation of OnPage, the company streamlined its incident response procedures, eliminating bottlenecks during incident reporting with an automated alerting system that delivers persistent alerts directly to on-call staff. They also simplified on-call calendar maintenance, allowing authorized staff to make changes without risking coverage gaps. All in all, the company was able to cut down its response times by 85%.
Case Study 2: A public utilities company
Here, we discuss how a local electric utility company, responsible for managing electric supply and distribution across multiple regions, leverages OnPage to bolster its incident management capabilities.
The electric utility company faced challenges in promptly alerting and mobilizing technical staff and field workers when critical incidents occurred, such as power outages, equipment failures, substation fires, or downed power lines. Prior to OnPage, incident alerting relied on manual phones and pagers, requiring control room staff to consult a static scheduler to identify the on-call personnel and then make contact attempts. As such, identifying the right on-call personnel for each incident became time-consuming and error-prone, hindering the company’s ability to respond swiftly to emergencies.
To address these issues and improve incident response, the electric utility company adopted OnPage’s cutting-edge incident management platform. OnPage offered a seamless and automated alerting system that instantly relayed alerts to the on-call technical staff and field workers through persistent alerts on their smartphones. The alerts went out in strict order of priority, in other words, escalation order. Authorized staff in each practice area had the ability to update on-call schedules with ease, reducing the risk of coverage gaps and ensuring smooth coordination. Adding or removing personnel became a breeze, and groups were effortlessly created with personnel listed based on their priority to receive alerts.
Energy and utilities companies are subject to various regulations aimed at ensuring the safe and reliable operations of their infrastructure. Incident management is a key component of regulatory compliance, and companies that fail to manage incidents effectively can face penalties. By instituting a solid incident management process powered by a critical alerting and collaboration tools, organizations can ensure the safety of their employees and public, maintain service reliability, protect their reputation, and comply with regulations.