Online GIS Brings Stability, Security and Safety to the Field

By Jarrod Harper, Vermont Electric Power Company

Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO), the nation’s first ever transmission-only company, imports and transmits power to Vermont’s 20 electric-distribution utility companies. To do this efficiently and accurately, the company needed an enterprise geospatial information system (GIS) that could provide better, faster access to critical operational information about the nearly 700 miles of high-voltage transmission line and 38 substations VELCO owns and manages.

VELCO adopted custom geospatial applications, giving workers instant access to necessary data.Click here to enlarge image

One ongoing challenge VELCO faced is quickly and safely restoring power after an outage. If a transmission line is lost, it will likely affect hundreds to thousands of customers. The company needed a system that was up-to-date and online, giving workers instant access to necessary data. To meet this need, VELCO adopted custom geospatial applications to maintain up-to-date information and ensure that our Web-based system is always available.

In addition to helping VELCO locate system faults, having an enterprise GIS saves hundreds of work hours each year, tracks field crews quickly and efficiently, keeps data secure and accurate, and shares transmission line data and maps with employees companywide.

The Need for Reliability and Stability

VELCO associates in every department use maps of the company’s transmission system to perform their tasks. Because only two GIS professionals were knowledgeable on map creation, however, associates were required to request and then wait for specific maps. The results were delays, duplicate maps and stress on the GIS team.

After a careful analysis of the challenges VELCO faced, the company saw an opportunity to save time and money. Most associates requested fairly simple maps; VELCO realized that a Web-based geospatial system could handle map requests easily and give everyone in the company a current view of our transmission system. The company wanted to put GIS on everyone’s desktop so they didn’t have to ask and then wait for maps.

In addition to creating maps, VELCO needed a reliable system that was online and always available. To restore service quickly after an outage, field workers must know the location of the fault and be able to help the crews find it. System disturbances that cause power outages rarely happen during normal working hours. Having an online GIS helps get repair crews to correct locations on transmission lines.

The Solution

VELCO already used AutoCAD software to manage our substation and transmission line drawings, so the company turned to its reseller, Microdesk, and Autodesk geospatial software to create this new GIS. After evaluating other vendors’ systems, the IT staff and the GIS group opted for the familiar AutoCAD environment. Compared with other systems, they saw better performance in deploying digital photography with Autodesk MapGuide software because displaying orthophotos is a requirement for the system and Autodesk MapGuide handled it much better.

VELCO utilizes AutoCAD Map 3D software to assist in creating and maintaining its geospatial database.Click here to enlarge image

VELCO also uses AutoCAD Map 3D software to assist in creating and maintaining its geospatial database. Autodesk MapGuide then shares that data with more than 140 associates throughout the company. The system displays diagrams, photographs, easement information and more on a simple, easy-to-understand user interface. Users don’t have to be GIS experts to understand what they see.

The workforce also appreciates that they can use many types of GIS data in the system without translation. The embedded open-source feature data object (FDO) technology enables VELCO to manage geospatial data in its native format. Not having to translate or convert the data reduces the risk of corrupting it and introducing errors. In the end, it means that the data is more secure, accurate and precise.

One Step Further for Safety

VELCO found yet another use for its online GIS that reflects the company’s commitment to safety. A member of a contracted tree-trimming crew was injured on a right-of-way near the Canadian border. With the nearest mobile phone tower in Canada, the crew’s calls were routed to Canadian emergency operators unable to respond to incidents in the United States.

After a root-cause investigation of the accident, VELCO decided it needed to track more closely its own crews and contractors working on the transmission system. The company looked into using Autodesk MapGuide as a tool to track field crews. VELCO began storyboarding how the tracking system would integrate into our online GIS and turned to Microdesk to develop it. From the time of the accident to deployment, VELCO had a fully functional field crew tracking system in only 2½ months.

VELCO now requires all crews to check in with the control center when they arrive at job sites. The system operator enters the worker information into the system, the latitude and longitude coordinates are extracted from the GIS database, the town they are in is automatically queried and then the information is presented to the system operator in an easy-to-read form.

Now if there is an accident, crews are instructed to call VELCO’s control center instead of public emergency call centers. VELCO will then contact emergency agencies and use our online GIS to direct help to a crew’s location.

The Result

While it is difficult to quantify the time saved using GIS, VELCO estimates it saves hundreds of hours each year. Now users can create specific maps on their own schedules. They have the information exactly when they need it to complete tasks, which saves tremendous time.

VELCO executives are more confident in fulfilling their safety responsibilities knowing that crews in the field will be easier to locate in the event of an accident.

One of the most important benefits of this GIS is system stability. When the state of Vermont relies on VELCO’s service, the company must be ready to serve them at all times. Autodesk technology enables it to be online and in service at all hours.

In keeping with VELCO’s role as Vermont’s reliability resource, the company plans to expand its GIS, migrating to Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise, and make it available to external stakeholders such as state agencies, distribution utilities and Vermont residents.

Harper has worked for Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) more than 17 years. He is a senior engineering technician and serves as the team lead for the CAD/GIS group. He has a degree in electrical/electronics engineering technology and a GIS certificate from Penn State’s World Campus.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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