It was a little before 3 a.m. on Aug. 29 and after some tossing and turning Scott McPhail decided it was time to get up and check the weather.

After all, there was work to prepare for. A major storm with 70 mph winds was forecasted to hit Michigan later in the day. Historically, we would wait to gauge the impact of a storm and then send crews out accordingly. But those days are in past.

As part of a new approach to storms, the company now stages crews in areas we expect to be hit hardest before a storm starts. This allows us to begin restoration efforts as soon as it’s safe to do so. This all-hands-on-deck strategy has worked well for this past summer storm season.

Combined with new technology and the continued passion and focus that crews, dispatch and other storm responders bring to their work, that has led to fewer and shorter power outages this year. 

“We are doing things that make a difference when it comes to combating Mother Nature,” said McPhail, the company’s storm restoration manager. “We have a strong pre-planning method in place that we are confident can handle any storm that comes Michigan’s way.”

Back to Monday, Aug. 29. McPhail started making calls early that morning to set crews up in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, the Lansing area and Jackson – where the storm was expected to hit the hardest on Monday afternoon.

“We were aggressive in preparing and getting ready for the storm to hit and being there to get to work right away to restore our customers,” he said. “We got a jump on the storm that hit Aug. 29 by at least a good day.”

Once the storm does hit, McPhail said the focus of each restoration process is the safety of the public and addressing the most affected areas right away.

“Our dispatchers have done a great job of moving our crews around the entire state to where the work is,” said McPhail.

McPhail said giving crews the authority they need to restore circuits has also helped restore power safer and more efficiently.

“We have empowered our crews to take on leadership roles by removing steps in their process that hindered restoration,” said McPhail. “Now that we cut steps out, it probably saves us about 40 minutes and allows dispatchers to focus on other things. It may not sound like a lot, but when you multiply those 40 minutes across 1,000 situations, well that is definitely saving time.”

The storm that walloped Michigan left tens of thousands without power, but it could have been much worse. Thanks to new technology called Automatic Transfer Reclosers, some customers never had an outage to begin with, being automatically restored in seconds or even minutes.

This technology, part of our reliability plan to build a more modern system, helped save the day during summer storms, including the Aug. 29 storm. A dozen ATRs played a major role in limiting outages to the smallest area possible.

The ATRs are just one of the cutting-edge reliability technologies we are implementing across Michigan. When outages occur, the 350 ATRs deenergize impacted electric lines and transfer power automatically, reducing outages and their impacts to customers

In all, the ATRS, saved 8,645 customers – of that figure 770 were businesses — from losing power Aug. 29 and saved tens of thousands of customers from losing power during this summer’s storm season.

“The ATRs were instrumental in coming through for us during this latest storm,” McPhail said. “They will be a big part of our reliability future and keeping outages to a minimum for customers we serve.”

Another addition to our grid: line sensors. These sensors map where circuits are down so our crews no longer have to manually check power lines to find the problem. Instead, they can focus their time and energy on fixing the problems, getting the power back on for customers faster.

“With sophisticated new technology, along with good, old-fashioned sweat and labor from lineworkers who are ready to go up in bucket trucks, this is what the future of Michigan’s power grid looks like,” McPhail said.

And he knows there will always be areas to improve, just like there will be another storm season with fall and winter around the corner.

“It’s about taking lessons that we learned and building on the momentum we have going,” he said. “I sincerely believe that we are improving and evolving in our restoration efforts, which our customers appreciate.”