FirstEnergy Credits Smart Grid Technology for Rapid Response After East Palestine Train Derailment

Smart Grid Tech

On Feb. 3, 2023, FirstEnergy’s distribution control center received an urgent call from first responders in East Palestine, Ohio. Emergency crews needed the electric company to quickly de-energize a section of power lines near the site of a hazardous train derailment that triggered a massive fire, belching toxic smoke into the air across northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

As we recognize the first anniversary of this tragic event, FirstEnergy and its subsidiary Ohio Edison look back on something that went right that day, thanks to the new smart grid technology the company had in place when the disaster occurred.

The distribution automation equipment not only allowed system operators to meet the needs of first responders quickly but also prevented line crews from having to enter the danger zone. The automated equipment also saved hundreds of customers from experiencing an outage on the day of the disaster.

“With the air quality as poor as it was during the hazmat spill caused by the derailment, we were so grateful we did not have to send linemen to the area. Using our remote-control capabilities, we were able to move the electric load around and feed power to customers from different directions, saving about 600 customers from seeing an outage that day,” said John Shuman, an engineer at FirstEnergy.

Watch a video explaining how the technology worked on the day of the train derailment.

As a result of FirstEnergy’s first round of grid modernization updates completed in 2020-22, thousands of Ohio Edison customers in Trumbull and Mahoning counties have seen their average restoration times improve by nearly half an hour in more complex outage scenarios, such as equipment damage from severe weather or a vehicle accident. 

To help educate the public and help people gain a deeper understanding of how the equipment works and why FirstEnergy plans to install more of this technology across its footprint, the company built a “smart grid trailer” that they can use to demonstrate the advanced electrical equipment. Watch a video of engineers using the trailer in an educational presentation to Akron high schoolers.

The trailer showcasing the technology demonstrates how smart grid components function in real-life scenarios. They work similarly to a home circuit breaker, shutting off power in case of trouble. However, they also have the added benefit of automatically re-energizing a substation or power line within seconds for certain types of outages to keep power safely flowing to customers. These components are also safer and more efficient as they allow utility personnel to restore service automatically instead of sending a crew to investigate. 

In case of a more serious issue like a fallen tree on electrical equipment, the device can isolate outages to a specific area and limit the total number of customers affected. Moreover, the technology can quickly pinpoint the location of the fault and help utility personnel better understand the cause of the outage to speed up the restoration process.

“Further implementing this technology across FirstEnergy's service territory is critical to our goal of continuously improving reliability for our customers and keeping our line crews safe,” said Shuman.



News Media Contact: Hannah Catlett (440) 554-5346


Last Modified: March 26, 2024