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Matt Zimmerman
Matt Zimmerman
Matt Zimmerman is a product manager at Schneider Electric. He is responsible for a portfolio of software ranging from outage management to line design and structural engineering.

Using GIS and Weather Forecasting to Strengthen Disaster Management

April 10th, 2014 by Matt Zimmerman

Weather events strike at the very heart of a utility’s business: the asset infrastructure. Pairing weather data and a geographic information system (GIS) solution provides utilities with a logical partnership.

Modern-day utilities rely on a GIS solution to manage and monitor asset infrastructure. A GIS provides a central repository for a utility’s asset and network data and makes that information visible in an intuitive, real-time map display. Utilities also have the ability to make immediate updates on the status and condition of assets in the control room, as well as in the field. With just a few keystrokes, asset information can be updated, and network and infrastructure changes can be modeled and designed. In short, GIS is a comprehensive, real-time, enterprise geospatial database of all network assets—a single version of the truth.

The GIS gives a utility an accurate view of the network and may be integrated with an outage management system (OMS) to display outages as they occur. Integrate weather forecasting with the GIS and utilities have a whole new level of insight into not just the network, but how forecasted weather may impact the asset infrastructure. This powerful integration gives utilities the power to plan for forecasted weather events, respond to asset damage, and recover from weather events more efficiently than ever before.

Quick and Safe Asset Restoration

The effect of weather on assets can be costly—and it’s increasing. According to recent studies from UVM, Berkeley Labs, IEEE Spectrum, and the 2013 IDC report, 44 percent of outages and 78 percent of grid disruptions are attributed to weather events. These disruptions hit the U.S. economy each year with a cost of $20-$55 billion and have increased “six-fold in the past 20 years.”

In addition to greater weather impacts, public opinion can damage a utility’s reputation after just one storm, particularly if the utility’s reaction isn’t swift and efficient. Utilities also face increased scrutiny over their power restoration times from regulators. Access to forecasted weather data means the power to prepare.

With accurate weather forecasting in relation to the network, a utility can staff crews more efficiently, ramping up when weather poses a threat and conversely, staffing lightly when the sky is clear. This agile staffing makes it easier to respond when needed with less overall costs.

Knowing when and where a weather event is likely to strike, a utility can identify which critical assets may be in danger and prepare for shut-off and restoration needs. Weather forecasting allows a utility to strategically place crews for more effective restoration. Leveraging accurate GIS data and advanced network tracing tools, any shutoffs can be isolated to minimize the number of affected customers.

Armed with weather forecast data integrated with its GIS, a utility can leverage quantified outage prediction to strategically place crews ahead of time and request mutual assistance from neighboring utilities. These preparations mean faster restoration times as well as more efficient staffing. A utility can monitor real-time weather data in relation to the asset infrastructure and determine when the storm has passed and crews can safely get to work. This balance lets crews begin restoring equipment sooner without putting their safety at risk.

Leverage Analytics to Manage an Aging Infrastructure

Aging infrastructure combined with smaller line crews and a mandate to do more with less means utilities need to more efficiently identify infrastructure replacements. Historical weather data can provide a utility with the information necessary to easily determine which assets have been most frequently impacted by weather events and strategically target replacement of those assets. Utilities can improve long-term outage planning by gaining greater visibility into the asset infrastructure and its condition. Analytics can address both tactical and strategic areas in outage operations.

As these systems become increasingly integrated, customized and shared, utilities will innovate ways to use the advantages to meet business challenges. Of all the significant benefits enterprise GIS brings to the business of utilities, serving as a tool for disaster management is, hopefully, rarely needed. However, when billions of dollars in infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of customers—and potentially homes, businesses and lives—are at risk, its ability to aid in effective and rapid response is critical.

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