By Christopher Cherry, Director of Communications Industry Strategy, Pitney Bowes Business Insight
Controlling the uncontrollable is challenging, to say the least. As a result, many companies struggle to predict virtually every aspect of their environment in an attempt to avoid uncontrollable scenarios. But this quest for control is nearly impossible when dealing with the potentially catastrophic forces of Mother Nature. Electric utilities know this struggle all too well, especially when it comes to predicting, monitoring and managing network problems and service disruptions. A broken tree limb, a wind gust or a good old-fashioned lightning strike is all it takes to cause widespread outages and cripple networks. Not only do these outages cause customer pain and dissatisfaction, but they adversely affect the bottom line.
By abandoning the need for control, and replacing it with the desire to understand and prepare, electric utilities position themselves for success. This shift, while empowering, requires implementation of the necessary tools and processes to enable businesses to predict severe weather, plan for disaster, monitor networks and manage any necessary repair and post-disaster activities.
Consider this scenario. A severe thunderstorm is barreling its way towards the nation’s capital. This particular storm cell is packing 60 mph winds, producing torrential rains and spawning destructive tornadoes as it heads towards the Washington, D.C. area. The fictitious Capital Power Company (CPC) is unaware that the darkening skies, while foreboding, are actually the harbingers of catastrophic damage. CPC’s current processes and tools limit their ability to accurately predict possible storm scenarios. Without the ability to predict, the CPC cannot plan, monitor and manage in an optimal manner. Therefore, when the storm hits, CPC is not prepared for the massive outages and onslaught of damage. Their repair crews are strewn across the city, playing catch-up with the growing number of outages. As the hours go by, darkened traffic signals are causing accidents and snarling traffic, hospitals are on limited generator power, business establishments are losing money, and CPC consumer customers are sitting in the dark, and waiting impatiently for the power to come back on. Needless to say, CPC is under extreme pressure to get service areas back up as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Conversely, armed with the proper data, CPC could have taken the necessary steps to identify, assess, prioritize and begin corrective action immediately. These steps, which include assessing the damage, identifying the cause, prioritizing the issues and affected service locations, dispatching crews, repairing the problem, restoring power, and notifying customers, are paramount to customer satisfaction and business success. With a more proactive plan that anticipates severe weather and the resulting network damage, the CPC could have been more informed, prepared and ready to remedy the outage in record time.
Today’s real-time data helps keep electric utility companies prepared for faster, more effective responses. In fact, a successful location-based solution combines up-to-the-minute weather knowledge with the location of infrastructure assets and customer base. This combination provides electric utilities with a bird’s eye view of their networks and the potential impact of devastating weather. This type of solution combines location intelligence with geographic information systems (GIS) to provide an overall risk assessment. The resulting risk data enables electric utilities to actually integrate real-time weather data into their processes and operations. The risk data allows them to view weather occurrences—be it a hurricane, tornado, ice storm, or simple thunderstorm—in conjunction with their network assets, their customers, their repair crews and their supplies. This type of in-depth risk data knowledge shifts the power and control a bit back towards the utility. While it is near impossible to predict the exact location of a lightning bolt, risk data takes educated guessing to new levels.
While real-time risk data is critical, historic weather risk data can also be just as important. Historic risk data provides not only the location of previous hail storms, tornadoes and hurricanes, but also includes natural disaster data, such as earthquake fault lines, tornado alleys, hurricane patterns and known flood plains. This type of information allows electric utilities to better understand the potential for loss or interruption based on previous events. These two sets of risk data continue to tip the control scale in the utility provider’s favor.
A true location intelligent and GIS solution based on real-time and historic risk data consists of various types of information to provide the most comprehensive picture. These types of risk data include:
- Weather events with the potential to produce severe conditions—floods, tornadoes, wind, hail, lightning, and thunderstorms—along with impact ratings from one (mild) to ten (most severe)
- World-wide damaging wind events that are not caused by convective storms
- Accumulated precipitation and ice accrual for a given day
- Radar data in the United States, Canada and Europe, along with world-wide satellite data
- Information on global tropical storms and hurricanes
Location intelligence and risk data solutions combine software, data, and services to help electric utilities measure, compare, visualize, analyze, prioritize and model data in unique, creative and powerful new ways. By combining location and customer information with weather risk data, electric utilities can thrive in today’s challenging economy.
The bottom line is this—today’s electric utilities have the opportunity to implement a location-based risk data solution that will prepare them for whatever havoc Mother Nature wreaks. Imagine a scenario where an impending storm is identified and mapped on an asset relational grid. Affected customers are notified, repair crews are mobilized and clean-up materials are put into place. Once the storm hits, the resulting outages and damages are controlled, and potentially minimized. The result is safer and happier customers and minimal impact on the bottom line.
Controlling the uncontrollable is really not that difficult—with today’s real-time and historical risk data to make your organization even more proactive.
Christopher Cherry is the Director of Communications Industry Strategy at Pitney Bowes Business Insight, a leading provider of location-based solutions, intelligence and expertise to businesses and governments worldwide. Christopher has been analyzing and advising in the communications sector for more than 15 years, and has worked to develop strategies for many of the largest providers.