Utilities Redefining Storm Response with Mobile Technology

For utility professionals, unpredictable weather is part of the job. However, when catastrophic weather events strike, utility professionals are put to the test more than ever.  Increasingly, they are becoming more responsive thanks to mobile technologies in the field.

In a recent T&D World webinar, The United Illuminating Company (UI), a utility company servicing approximately 333,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Connecticut, shared with listeners how mobile technology is transforming the utility industry. Unlike the Florida coast or the Kansas prairies, Connecticut is not traditionally known for severe weather patterns; however, the events that occurred during the 2011 and 2012 seasons redefined UI’s approach to restoring power after large scale events.

Those two events – Superstorm Sandy, the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, and Hurricane Irene, the seventh-costliest – rocked the East Coast, wreaking historic levels of infrastructure damage and leaving millions without power. Many utility companies operating in that geographical area were charged with repairing the power grid to get homes and businesses back on line as quickly and safely as possible.

What made these two storms unique was not just their scale and destruction but also that they were among the first major storms of the smartphone era. By 2011, 92.8 million people in the U.S. were smartphone users; that number jumped to 122 million by the next year. As a result, the normal “wait-and-hope” response to major outages was simply no longer acceptable. Customers wanted visibility into the restoration process broadly, and more importantly, they wanted to know at a granular level “When will my power be back on?” Utilities understand that customers’ family’s safety is everyone’s number one priority in weather events like these. With smartphones becoming more ubiquitous, utility companies knew they had to reexamine how they planned restoration and communicated with the public.

The answer: rugged mobile computing devices that are rugged enough to withstand harsh field conditions, powerful enough to compute advanced staffing and scaling algorithms, and portable enough so users could easily navigate their difficult work environment.

Major weather events like Irene and Sandy often require utility teams to increase staffing five- to six-fold. Effectively coordinating communication across the entire unit is crucial. With rugged laptops, tablets and handhelds, employees and contractors have access to real-time updates on damage so that they can triage and prioritize in the field. Similarly, the ability to receive and oversee the current state of the entire mobile workforce and distribution network enables them to be proactive and make informed decisions about improving the restoration schedule. These mobile devices enable a secure and constant flow of information back from the affected areas, providing customers with much-needed visibility into the restoration’s progress. During the frightening post-storm quiet as everyone tries to get their bearings, any information is invaluable.

Click here to register to listen to the full T&D World webinar recording.


The Panasonic Toughbook portfolio of rugged laptops, tablets and handheld devices is built to equip utility crews on the front lines of severe weather events. For more information on why not all rugged devices are created equal, please download this technology guide.