Weather events, positioning for the next big storm

by CJ Parisi and Tom Servas, Utility Integration Solutions Inc.

The ability to render accurate, timely information to customers and stakeholders is critical to presenting a positive, proactive image during weather events and managing the aftermath of a major storm.

Most electric transmission and distribution utilities have the technology to accomplish this but need further analysis and integration to become effective. The keys to success can be found by leveraging existing investments, improving the network model, ensuring data integrity, taking a flexible approach to integration, and demonstrating the ability to work with government and other infrastructure providers.

Utilities can take five proactive steps from a technology and business perspective to support those on the front lines and improve timely availability of accurate information and simpler communication.

Leveraging AMI Investment to Support Storm Recovery

Utilities can tap their near real-time customer meter information to reduce errors in outage and recovery tracking. After the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, utilities that integrated advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) with outage management systems (OMSs) received few press accolades for providing accurate, timely information to customers. Timely restoration did not affect public perception as much as proactive, accurate communication.

AMI and meter data management systems (MDMSs) can provide input to outage prediction algorithms. The inputs are useful after severe weather events, when individual service outages remain after power is restored upstream. Integration with AMI/MDMS and OMS provides operators the means to request power status verification from meters during restoration, minimizing the number and duration of service outages and maximizing efficiency of restoration crews. Alternatively, the AMI/MDMS can issue restoration notifications that can be used to confirm restored customers identified by the OMS. This approach moves toward eliminating the problem where a repair crew might leave an area prematurely based on assumption that power has been restored.

Data exchange between an AMI and OMS can support storm recovery. To be effective, information with the customer service system must be minimized and the customer-meter relationships must be accurate.

Achieving Network Asset Model Integrity via Timely Data Updates

Accurate modeling and maintenance of the electric transmission and distribution network is the foundation of an effective outage management and recovery solution. Value exists in using the corporate network asset model to create and maintain the network model for transmission and distribution operations. Adding or changing facilities, devices or network structure where work is done and keeping the changes in sync with the OMS is critical to ensuring an operational model foundation.

There must be a relationship between a utility’s geospatial asset model and its network model. The geospatial model, however, must be timely and updated accurately by work order process. It can be difficult to get out of habit of using paper work orders and redlines to drive transmission and distribution network facility construction and maintenance updates in the geographic information system (GIS). When the paper process is preserved and orders are handed off to a drafting department for updating GIS or computer-aided design systems, data errors and delays are introduced. Another problem is creating new designs in the GIS, driving cleanup of the base geospatial network model. The best way to achieve a high level of model integrity is to embed the GIS, work force management and mobile technologies into the construction, maintenance and restoration work flows. This will ensure a constant process of timely data updates and data quality improvement and send planned construction updates to the OMS so operators can energize the work in sync with construction. In practice, it makes sense to create two streams of work flow for updating the OMS model: one for operational critical work and one for the nonoperational critical work.

Using Field Data Collection for Data Improvement

After a solid system and process is in place to incorporate designs and as-builts into the network asset model, the next step is to define a program of field audits that will improve device, connectivity and customer-connection data. This will help build confidence in the corporate asset model as a basis for creating and updating the operational model for the OMS, distribution management system (DMS) and energy management system.

This is a good time to hire a third party to input the backlog of paper work orders, which will serve to bring the data up to speed as fast as possible prior to investing in field audits. Failure to have a continuous update process prior to conducting data improvement programs will result in the frustration of watching the work order backlog accumulate and the value of the data investment erode.

Dedicated field audits and data improvement projects can be expensive and time-consuming. Consider leveraging the efforts of field personnel already touching field assets as part of their normal work process. Some utilities have incorporated field data collection and improvement into mobile maintenance applications so field-workers can input corrections and updates as they work.

Integrating the Engineering, Operational Realms

From this foundation, it is possible to create flexible integration supporting multivendor, multiplatform data exchange between corporate information technology and operations information technology. Using one model to drive a utility’s engineering and operational requirements ensures consistent, accurate and timely data, which is critical to storm recovery and managing restoration. The coordination of the GIS model, the OMS/DMS model and meter-customer ties ensures fewer customers are overlooked or missed during major outages.

Once the target OMS, DMS and EMS models or both are defined, they can be synchronized with GIS and maintained using an incremental update process. As model increments are given to the operational systems, the temporary device states are tracked and maintained so operations continue uninterrupted. New work order designs also can be exported to the OMS/DMS/EMS to allow operators to use them to energize new or changed facilities. This, however, only works when dispatchers and operators have high confidence in the incoming data integrity.

Setting up the integration to accomplish this can be complex from a work process and technical perspective. It’s important to use a flexible integration approach, typically using a standard such as the common information model or MultiSpeak as an exchange format. This allows tweaks to the processes and models on both sides as lessons are learned and changes are needed.

The means of establishing data quality assurance and quality control, the timing and makeup of incremental updates, and updating the corporate systems from storm recovery activities must be laid out and managed carefully. The integration of DMS and EMS also should be considered.

Improving Coordination With Emergency Responders

Stakeholders outside the realm of utility customers require timely, two-way communications during emergencies. Utilities have an increasing need to stay in sync with police, fire departments, city governments, the Federal Energy Management Agency, the media, regulators and other entities. Sharing data with and receiving data from these emergency organizations ensure coordination among utility operations, emergency operations centers and incident command centers, which improves the management of major events.

Up-and-coming software solutions based upon the Unified Incident Command and Decision Support (UICDS) standard established by the Department of Homeland Security enables utilities to share and receive fractional data with emergency organizations. A utility can set and manage the criteria for information that will be shared when and with whom. The common information model or MultiSpeak standards can be used to facilitate information exchange among multivendor and stakeholder platforms.

UICDS provides a standardized way of early and frequent communications with the outside world. Integrating emergency organizations with a utility’s systems and understanding what data to share and when has the potential to alleviate stakeholder and public angst to major weather events. In addition, UICDS makes a utility’s storm response an integrated component of the national response framework, including response coordination through the incident command system.

This approach becomes increasingly powerful as more agencies and responders contribute to the situation awareness. This information enables operators to make intelligent decisions that affect employee and public safety, such as redirecting crews away from a hazard.

Figure 4: Graphical User Interface Presents Unified View of Data From Multiple Sources for Timely Crisis Management

Electric utility operators work to restore power to customers during and after severe weather and other natural disasters. The industry bands together during these times to send mutual aid crews from across North America to fight the elements and solve logistical issues.

Work, cooperation and planning, however, can be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event. Proactive technology and business process steps can be taken to support those on the front lines and achieve better situational awareness through improving timely availability of accurate information and simpler communication.


CJ Parisi is a senior consultant at UISOL, an Alstom company. Parisi has more than 17 years of experience implementing OMS and distribution system business intelligence.

Tom Servas is a vice president at UISOL. Servas has more than 18 years of experience managing software implementations and integrations for the utility industry

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