June 2011 to May 2012 was the warmest 12-month consecutive period in the continental U.S. in recorded history. This extreme heat has created conditions conducive to wild fires. In one day NOAA reported thirteen new large fires. Nationally, 52 large fires have burned more than 900,000 acres. Residents near several large fires across the country remain evacuated.
A fire that has attracted national attention is the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs where 347 homes have been destroyed and more than 20,000 homes and 160 business have been under threat. Another fire, the High Park fire west of Fort Collins has destroyed 257 homes.
Waldo Canyon Fire gas restoration
To give you some idea about what is involved from a utility perspective this is a summary of Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) gas restoration efforts as of July 3 at 11 am. CSU is responsible for electric power, water and gas services in the Colorado Springs area. CSU reported that about 3000 CSU customers are back in their homes and businesses in the evacuation areas of Peregrine and Oak Valley Ranch. CSU has restored gas service to a little over a half of these homes and will continue working through July 4 to restores the rest. Crews from Xcel Energy have arrived and are helping. In the particularly hard hit area of Mountain Shadows which remains evacuated, engineers have determined that 1200 homes are habitable, but that the fire has ravaged the gas system. In this area the restoration process will take much longer than in other areas. 12 miles of distribution line are going to have to be restored and 350 service lines to homes that were destroyed or damaged need to be capped. Federal regulations require these caps be tested for 24 hours to ensure that they are safe. During this process the hard hit areas of Mountain Shadows areas must remain evacuated for safety reasons.
I must add that we at Autodesk recognize the tremendous commitmment and effort that utility folks, both in the field and in the control center, make in dealing with these emergencies.
Technology is changing disaster management
Technology is changing how utilities respond to disasters like the fires in Colorado. One area that has changed dramatically is how the utility communicates with the public during and after a disaster. The other area is new sources of geospatial data that can provide much more timely information, what some refer to as near real-time data, during both the disaster and the restoration period.
One of the problems that utilities face is data quality, especially relating to the location of underground facilities. The infamous gas explosion in Belgium in 2004 immediately comes to mind because poor data meant that the construction crew did not know that there was a gas pipeline where they were excavating. In many disasters such as the fires in Colorado, it is crucial that you know exactly where underground infrastructure is. Colorado Springs Utilities has been making a major effort to implement standards-driven processes, built-in analysis, and materials management to improve workflows which helps field crews during disasters by contributing to improved data reliability.
One of the areas which has dramatically impacted how utilities respond to disasters is communication with the public. Not only does CSU have a web site with up to date information about the fires, areas affected, and restoration efforts, but CSU is also on Facebook. For example, this was posted just Tuesday evening.
"As of this evening, we've restored service to 2,400 homes. Crews will hit the road again July 4. Thank you for your patience and support. We are proud to serve and call this community home. - Patrice"
As another example, Southern California Edison (@socaledison) uses Twitter to report extreme weather alerts, outages, and restoration progress.
Near real-time data
Extensive flooding occurred in many areas of Queensland during late December 2010 and early January 2011, exacerbated by Cyclone Tasha, a category 1 tropical storm, with three quarters of the state, or 1 000 000 km2 declared a disaster zone. In some areas flooding was so severe that mandatory evacuation was imposed on several towns. At GITA ANZ last year, Mark Volz of Ergon Energy gave a fascinating presentation on how Ergon monitored flooding and managed electric power during the disaster.
Ergon had to identify facilities where the power needed to be turned off and also had to keep the police informed of the status of electric power facilities across the state. Mark used a digital elevation model (DEM) of Queensland from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) global digital elevation model. Satellite radar images, produced by the COSMO-SkyMed satellite constellation, of the flooded regions of Queensland which has been supplied to the Australian authorities by e-GEOS were used by the University of New South Wales in Sydney, with the support of the Land & Property Management Authority and of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, to compile temporal maps showing how the extent of flooding changed with time. The maps were sent to the Australian authorities within six hours of the images being received. Using the DEM data and the satellite imagery Mark was able to identify Ergon facilities that had been inundated.
April 27th 2011 thirty tornadoes hit Alabama Power's operating area completely destroying two substations, flattening transmission pylons, breaking 7500 poles, and leaving 400,000 customers without power.
Prior to the tornadoes Alabama Power had deployed about 1.4 million smart meters in its operating territory. By looking for smart meters that had been read the day before and comparing them with the meters that could not be read after the tornadoes, Alabama Power was able to put together a detailed picture of where power has been lost, without making telephone calls. The application could also tell emergency response officials whether the power was on or off in specific buildings - critical information that first responders require before entering a damaged building. In addition, Alabama Power could track power restoration as customers started coming back on-line.
Real-time network monitoring
One of the most important challenges for modern grid control is being able to monitor a large number of intelligent devices in real-time. Burlington Hydro has implemented a real-time monitoring system that integrates their SCADA system, 65 000 smart meters reporting power use every 15 minutes, the supporting automated meter infrastructure (AMI), power line sensors, customer information system (CIS), their ERP system, engineering analysis, and other systems. It utilizes bidirectional communications to both receive information from and control smart devices. The system has to handle very large data volumes. For example, some devices are reporting 60 times per second. A web browser, either on the desktop or on a mobile device, is all that's required to access tools for asset maintenance, cable locate, asset management, operations, financials and drill downs, automating network pinning and work protection tagging, SCADA, schematic views, automated CAIDI, SAIDI and SAIFI reporting, an outage management system (OMS), mobile workforce automation, automated as-built management, real-time asset monitoring and analytics, and an executive dashboard. For example, this allows live monitoring of all transformers on the grid. The transformer status monitoring dashboard not only shows a map with transformer loading in real-time in the form of a heat map, but also reports historical loading and can even estimate, based on the history of oveloading on a particuler transformer, how much the lifetime of the transformer had been shortened as a result of the overloading. It also allows the operator to reconfigure the grid in real time to reduce the load on overlloaded transformers and redistribute it to others with available capacity.
Post-disaster high resolution imagery helps governments quickly and cost-effectively assess and manage damage assessment and rescue efforts following a disaster. For example, Pictometry will image up to 200 square miles of affected areas of Federally declared disasters caused by hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes to customers at no charge, often within a few days. Pictometry even provides change analysis software to help quantify the impact of a disaster for several months following a disaster.
One of the novel developments that is changing how information is collected and disseminated is crowd-sourced data, data that is uploaded directly from the field. It the case of the Queensland floods a web site was developed by Mark Volz's team at Ergon Energy. The web site became the single source for all information relating to asset damage. The source of this information was what Mark called "internal crowd-sourcing", asset damage reports from operations staff in the field uploaded daily to the site.