By Jeff Grosshauser
As a non-profit electric cooperative serving nearly 13,000 customers, Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative in North Baltimore, Ohio, is committed to keeping the cost of power affordable for its membership while reducing and preventing outage time. Saddled with an aging analog radio system and facing the approaching Federal Communications Commission (FCC) narrowbanding mandate—along with a reduction in its only tower’s power from 250 to 100 watts—Hancock-Wood needed a communications system that would be FCC-compliant while providing clear audio from anywhere in its coverage area. In addition, it needed a solution that would enable it to track its mobile line workers and trucks via global positioning system (GPS) for greater efficiency.
The solution was Motorola’s MOTOTRBO communications system with Internet Protocol (IP) Site Connect and Milsoft’s DisSPatch Outage Management System via neoNytro GPS application. This combination of hardware and software—provided by Bender Communications, Milsoft, NeoTerra Systems and Motorola—gave Hancock-Wood the functionality it needed in an easily deployed, affordable package.
When Bender Communications first approached Hancock-Wood about the MOTOTRBO solution, it was receptive to ideas about how to get more coverage to its service area as well as how to seamlessly integrate GPS into its communication system. Knowing the cooperative would not get relicensed at that high power, it addressed the issue by using 100-watt MOTOTRBO repeaters in an IP Site Connect configuration. Now, with six towers, Hancock-Wood has better coverage than it previously had from a single site. Durable MOTOTRBO radios provide clear audio and reliable communication, and the Milsoft Outage Management System, in conjunction with the neoNytro GPS application, allows Hancock-Wood to improve restoration times during outages because of real-time location data.
With the new solution, Hancock-Wood is prepared for the narrowbanding transition and has the tools in place to improve employee safety, reduce outage times and communicate effectively from anywhere in its service area—including the remote Kelleys Island. Reliable dispatch services, improved line worker safety, enhanced everyday and emergency communications, and reduced outage times are many of the benefits Hancock-Wood has seen with the new MOTOTRBO technology.
The Transition to 12.5 kHz
The FCC narrowbanding mandate requires ultra-high frequency (UHF) and very-high-frequency (VHF) licensees to migrate to 12.5 kHz technology by January 1, 2013. When Bender Communications was evaluating the cooperative’s equipment to find solutions to its other challenges, it realized some of its gear couldn’t be reprogrammed to be narrowband compliant. The cooperative is now able to transition to the new technology at its own pace before the deadline, since MOTOTRBO two-way radios operate at 12.5 kHz or 25 kHz.
GPS—The Key to Efficiency
When it comes to reducing outage times, knowing where employees are located in the field is imperative to sending the right teams to the job. Before the new solution was deployed, employees used either their radios or cell phones to call the dispatcher to report their location.
NeoNytro is a data application that has been developed for the MOTOTRBO platform, allowing robust and easy GPS tracking. Using MultiSpeak Specification for interoperability, the neoNytro application sends updates to the Milsoft DisSPatch Outage Management System that tracks Hancock-Wood’s vehicles on its own maps. With this new process in place, the cooperative has been able to reduce “windshield time”—the time it takes the crew to arrive at an outage or work site—and manage its crews to be more efficient. This allows the cooperative to expand and enhance its services without having to hire more employees.
Reliable Communications— Anytime, Anywhere
Before the new communications system was implemented, employees at Hancock-Wood experienced communications hiccups at the fringes of the coverage area, resulting in missed calls and poor audio quality. This was a particular concern in the southern part of the territory. Poor coverage for handheld radios was also a problem.
Kelleys Island presented another unique challenge. Located more than two hours away from Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative’s service area, radio communication with the crew on the island had been non-existent; crews could only communicate via cell phone. With the new IP Site Connect system in place, the barriers to communicating with crews on the small resort island were removed.
With the new solution, reliable communications came in the form of improved coverage and the hardware. Hancock-Wood is now using MOTOTRBO XPR45-50 mobile radios and XPR 6550 portable radios.
Improving Employee Safety
Reliable communications has improved efficiency at Hancock-Wood—and enhanced employee safety. With the expanded coverage and GPS technology, teams can communicate when they need to, and, if there is a safety issue with one of their crews, they know where to go for help.
Satisfied Employees— and Customers
At Hancock-Wood, everyone from the dispatcher and line units to service personnel and office staff use the new technology, and they all have been pleased. The new communications system has made the dispatcher’s job much simpler, and now everyone can communicate with each other.
The cooperative membership is also seeing the benefits of the new system with reduced outage times. The cooperative has been able to respond to other customer needs as well. Both of these bode well for Hancock-Wood because it is always looking for ways to improve customer service and attract new businesses to the community—and a stable utility can be a key influencer. As part owners of Hancock-Wood, the cooperative membership will also be pleased with the efficiencies gained from the new technology. Greater efficiency means lower operating costs and better operating margins. Operating margins can be used to improve reliability, reduce the impact of increasing generation costs and also can be returned directly to the members in the form of patronage capital.
Looking ahead, Hancock-Wood is exploring texting for expanded operational efficiencies. At some point, it would like to use an automated system to text outage and device location numbers to employees, and also allow employees to text back to verify suspected problems or that a problem has been resolved.
About the author: Jeff Grosshauser is the energy markets sales manager for Motorola Solutions.