Using Mobile Tools For Rapid Damage Assessment

Scott Higgins, Director - Grid Automation Solutions, Schneider Electric
1182
2022
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Scott Higgins, Director - Grid Automation Solutions, Schneider Electric

Scott Higgins, Director - Grid Automation Solutions, Schneider Electric

Damage to electrical infrastructure is never good news. Repairs are often costly, time consuming, and it shakes your customers' confidence in your service. Getting power back up and running quickly is the goal of any utility during an outage, but operators also have to be aware of the costs, time and outside resources that are needed to bring the electricity back on line. One of the most important tasks during an outage is the transmission of conditions and data from the field crew to the home office. If the data can be gathered and acted upon quickly and accurately, it can turn a bad situation into a business challenge that can be addressed efficiently and confidently.

New next-generation mobile platforms are emerging that address this problem. By integrating with a utility’s GIS, the platform gives operators a powerful tool to better analyze the extent of damage and determine which resources are needed and where.

Shortfalls of traditional damage assessments

A geographic information system (GIS) solution is the cornerstone of many utilities. It provides a central repository for a utility's asset and network data along with immediate updates on their statuses and conditions. It is a comprehensive, real-time, enterprise geospatial database of all network assets—a single version of the truth. A GIS also serves as the foundation with which to integrate other enterprise and operational systems that give operators unprecedented visibility of assets and network conditions.

Typically, a GIS is relied on to provide a detailed picture of a utility's assets and is a key component when assessing damage. However, many utilities interact with a GIS manually entering detailed damage assessments or by making notes of which assets are down and then comparing those notes with the GIS information at a later point to determine exactly which materials and devices are on the downed pole. Then, operators must identify the materials and resources needed to make the repairs. This process is extremely time-intensive and delays the mobilization of resources and restoration of power.

Next-generation solutions

The good news is that next-generation mobile platforms can address these persistent data collection problems and efficiencies to make rapid damage assessment a more seamless process. Specifically, it integrates with a GIS to tell operators not only the where of the damage, but the what and how of repairing it. This automation removes many time-consuming steps in the path to restoration and allows operators to start checking inventory and pulling in extra crews and resources more quickly, saving an enormous amount of, often critical, time.

A fully-integrated mobile solution allows nearly any user— not necessarily a line worker or GIS expert—to go into the field, identify on a digital map where there is a downed pole or other damage, and move on to the next location. In the meantime, the application sends this information in real-time to the GIS, which then automatically identifies the materials at that location and reports it via a dashboard at the main office so that operators can begin building a list of materials and resources needed for repairs, as well as determining cost. This gives operators unprecedented speed in making decisions about next steps and what resources will be needed for repairs.

Because the technology determines the scope and specifics of the damage, the user profile for this platform is greatly expanded. For example, the aftermath of a natural disaster may require a utility to call on the assistance of a nearby utility. Neighboring field crews, who have no knowledge of the infrastructure, can be given a mobile device with this application and asked to simply mark their location when damage is identified. The rapid assessment tool and GIS take care of the rest.

Once the data is captured by the systems, it is kept as a historical record to help build a stronger, more detailed knowledge base around storm repair. In a future scenario when severe weather is on the horizon, operators can better predict damage because they have a record of what has been installed, where it has been installed, and any previous repairs that may help harden that area to future weather events. For example, a storm just as severe as a previous one may be headed for a service area, but the operator has a greater knowledge of what the damage will entail so can better plan for outages and restoration. Ultimately, this informs better decision-making for prioritizing damage assessment activities. If an advanced weather forecasting system is also incorporated, storm corridors can be identified to help further predict damage and outages.

A detailed history of sustained damage and completed repairs serves as a critical paper trail for utilities applying for government disaster relief aid or other reimbursements. An intensive record keeping feature can build audit-proof reports for regulators to show the damage that was sustained, the repair work that was done and the materials and cost associated with the event, streamlining the reimbursement process.

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