Outage map harnesses technology to better inform customers

Muscatine Power and Water's updated outage map can track outages with street level detail.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–When Muscatine Power and Water embarked on their Fiber to the Home project, they intended to improve internet connections across the city. As this work nears completion this winter, the upgraded communication equipment will allow for more than just faster internet. Thanks to some creative thinking, Muscatine Power and Water has used the new fiber system to roll out an improved electrical outage map for customers to use.

When Muscatine Power and Water installed fiber telecommunications hardware at each of their customers’ residences, the new equipment included optical network terminals, which converts signals traveling through fiber lines into internet, cable TV, and phone service. Whenever one of these terminals loses power, it sends a signal to Muscatine Power and Water. When they receive several of these signals at the same time, they can tell a power outage occurred. Each signal also automatically plots itself onto the outage map on Muscatine Power and Water’s website, allowing customers to see power outages across the city in real time.

Upgrades to the outage map’s software have also made it more user friendly. Programmed with information about what houses and businesses share the same substation or transmission line, it can predict larger outages based on where it sees signals coming from. The map also has enhanced zoom features, which allows viewers to look at outages in very specific parts of town. In the past, the map could only show larger generalizations about which areas did or did not have power.

Because of these new upgrades, Customer and Technology Experience Director Erika Cox says customers will not need to call in if they experience a power outage. However, she still requests that people who see a branch on a powerline, a downed electrical pole or powerline, an electrical pole on fire, or a sparking line call right away. “These are public safety emergencies,” she emphasized.

As an added benefit of the new outage map, Muscatine Power and Water anticipates that it will have the capacity to respond to outages sooner. In the past, system operators had to take many customer calls and enter each point on the outage map individually in order to determine the location of an outage. Line crews would then have to drive around the affected area trying to discover what caused the outage before they could fix the problem. Now, within 15 minutes of an outage, line crews can set out to fix the problem. Because the map can predict what areas the outage affects, crews can better narrow down what could have caused the outage and spend less time trying to find it.

In the future, Muscatine Power and Water hopes to keep adding additional functionality to their outage map. When possible, they would like to add estimated times for how long it will take to restore power to different parts of an outage. Additionally, they hope to eventually have the system text message customers to inform them of outages and restoration times so that they know Muscatine Power and Water has already started to take care of it.