PHOENIX - It almost looks like something from the Starship Enterprise.
Bright monitors displaying flashing lights and colorful patterns of information line the 840-square -foot room.
It doesn’t just look like a command center, it is one.
Arizona's largest public utility says it is ready for any power outages brought on by Phoenix's approaching monsoon storms.
Arizona Public Service (APS) workers expect a new operations facility established in north Phoenix to make for a quicker response time for customers going without service.
APS said the new system “tracks outages in real time, manages electric loads, and manages the construction and repair crew."
Arizona's monsoon season, which began June 15, typically brings storms with high winds that can cause outages.
Jacob Tetlow, operations director, said APS makes preparation for summer a priority.
"We have a lot of procedures in the company, but we put a lot of emphasis on those procedures that are about storm restoration," Tetlow said.
The utility said employees can pinpoint outages faster and give workers in the field more exact locations of electrical issues.
APS began remodeling a 1970s-built warehouse into a new operating facility in September 2010.
"The remodel has cost the company about $35 million. The building contains an energy-distribution center and a call center. The distribution center handles electricity for more than one million customer accounts spread out over 35,000 square miles," spokesman John Hatfield said.
Operation specialists look out for outages and circuit issues on six wall-mounted 7-by-20-foot LED screens. The screens allow operators to look at city maps or focus in on a neighborhoods and streets.
"This has been a big learning curve for everybody to get to a total electronic program, but they've been working on it for a couple of years now; they've just had the crutch of the paper maps still there," said Jerry Levesque, manager of the distribution operations center.
APS plans to move all its distribution centers, including areas such as Casa Grande, Prescott and Yuma, to the new facility within the next year.
Salt River Project, the other major utility that services metro Phoenix, dropped paper maps in favor of electronic and digital technology in 2008.
SRP spokesman Scott Harelson said their distribution center typically brings in more staffing during monsoon season. Employees also go through "storm training" in May and June. The training encompasses simulations and coordination of what workers' roles are during a monsoon storm outage.
In addition, the company maintains a map of current power outages on its website. Harelson said anyone can go on the site and see what caused an outage and when power is expected to be restored. Customers can also call or report outages electronically.
"That's really a new feature and it provides a lot more information than a lot of other utilities are able to do," Harelson said.
SRP serves more than 950,000 customers in the Phoenix area.
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