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Case Study: IGNITE Advisory Service Redefining Resilience at SMUD

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) – a community-owned, not-for-profit electric utility based out of Sacramento, California – is establishing an elevated standard for severe winter weather preparation and response after the extensive damage caused by storms during the Winter of 2022 and 2023. Starting on New Year's Eve in 2022 and over several weeks, around 600,000 SMUD customers experienced power outages. SMUD replaced over 425 poles to restore power, a significant increase compared to a typical year.


SMUD's Chief Operating Officer Frankie McDermott said, "The storms were unprecedented, prompting the utility to reassess its holistic outage response process."



SMUD increased its available materials inventory, adopted new technology for better communication, and restructured logistics for material delivery. These steps didn't happen in isolation. They result from what Vanessa Edmonds, U2030's Executive Director, calls a "Meta Leadership effort."


Meta Leadership, a framework taught by the National Leadership Preparedness Initiative (NPLI) at Harvard, is a comprehensive approach to leadership that emphasizes understanding and navigating the complex interconnections and dynamics of modern challenges. According to course literature, leaders gain much-needed influence beyond authority' by building connections through a shared sense of purpose.

According to Edmonds, “Led by SMUD’s Chief Operating Officer Frankie McDermott, SMUD's savvy leaders brought all stakeholders together to do better and aligned everyone around a common purpose with a definition of what ‘better’ meant. This collaboration is invaluable.”


As part of this initiative, SMUD collaborated with U2030's Ignite Advisory Services to identify shared challenges among utility professionals, conduct interviews with representatives from various utility companies, and host workshops to facilitate knowledge exchange. Interviews identified four key areas for improvement:

  • Operations & Staffing

  • Communications

  • Preparation & Training

  • Key Technologies

Following the workshop, U2030 facilitates virtual strategy syncs and quarterly meetings to continue building camaraderie and further explore critical topics like Estimated Time of Restoration (ETRs) and Network Incident Management (NIMs).



Through this project, SMUD and other participating utilities are:

  • Building camaraderie through workshop activities and follow-up sessions.

  • Framing and articulating problems collectively to establish consensus and a shared starting point.

  • Setting shared goals for future collaboration.

During quarterly strategy sync sessions, utilities are reporting successes, including:

  • Developing support for future mutual assistance requests.

  • Better segmenting restoration priorities based on best practices.

  • Evaluating tools, with help from the workgroup, for managing restoration priorities.

  • Automating ETRs based on group best practices and creating new dashboards for managing ETRs.

  • Improving online outage maps for customers.

 Mike Smith, principal for U2030 who helped lead the project, says, "In the face of extreme weather events, we must prioritize enhancing emergency and outage preparation, response, and communications. These efforts are not just about mitigating the immediate impacts of disruptions; they are fundamental to ensuring the resilience and reliability of our energy infrastructure in an increasingly unpredictable environment. By investing in improved preparedness and communication strategies, we bolster our ability to address challenges swiftly and empower communities to navigate transitions towards sustainable and resilient energy systems."


Looking Ahead

In the wake of devastating storms, SMUD has emerged more resilient, setting a higher standard for winter weather preparation and response. Through a meta-leadership approach, the utility is overhauling its outage response process and fostering collaboration among utilities nationwide with a shared purpose.


By embracing shared goals and collective problem-solving, SMUD and its partners are improving response times and communication accuracy and enhancing utility services' overall reliability and resilience.


McDermott states, "U2030 IGNITE Services helped us dig deeper into some of our challenges and collaborate with other utility professionals to identify solutions. Through their research expertise and ability to bring people together creatively, the U2030 team is helping facilitate our journey towards increased resilience and reliability."


As SMUD continues to lead the charge, customers can rest assured knowing they're receiving efficient and informed service, fortified by the lessons learned from past challenges.



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