Photo by NASA

Braving The Storm: Lessons from Dark Sky Days

Craig Lawrence Case Studies, Damage Assessment, Data Science

My father was a hurricane forecaster for the National Hurricane Center. He’s retired now, but as a kid I always thought his job was strange – what did he do when there weren’t any storms? Hurricane season was only half the year and, even then, there were often many months with no tropical storms. Turns out he did a lot  – analyzing data, building and validating forecasting models. To my younger self, that didn’t seem like real work, but, when a tropical storm did form, the whole organization sprung into action – everything changed. My dad and his colleagues were energized – people’s lives and property were at stake.

The responsibilities of an electric utility operator is also storm-dependent. During “blue sky” days, there’s a lot of important work to do, but regular operations and maintenance can be planned, scheduled, controlled. However, when those storms hit – everything changes. How you respond to events – what processes and tools you use and how you make decisions – may be very different if you have ten people out of power, or a hundred thousand people out. Lives and property are at stake.

At Treverity, we have been fortunate to work side by side with some of the best utility operators during some of the worst storms. It is within the chaos of these storms that we were able to forge our TreverityEDGETM Human Integration software. We have learned a few lessons:

  • Context matters. Just looking at how many customers are out of power doesn’t give you the whole picture. You also need to understand who is out – is this a medical facility? An evacuation shelter? A cell phone tower? Getting this information to operators is vitally important, so we have built customer segmentation and prioritization rules into our software tools, to help operators determine where they need to focus.
  • Defcon 1! Understanding how bad your situation can be surprisingly complex. It’s not just the number of outages, or even who is out. The severity of the situation rests on how prepared a utility is to address the outage. How many crews are available? Where are they located? Where do you have equipment inventory? Is there flooding and will it  impact the transportation of people and equipment? Treverity introduced the concept of “Impact Level” to our customers – a metric designed to reflect the combined impact from a number of factors, during and after a storm. TreverityEDGE pulls near real-time data from multiple core utility systems to compute Impact Level, and our software helps utilities modify their operating procedures to reflect the threat.
Sample TreverityEDGE™ Dashboard
  • Flexibility matters. Many utilities are now driven to digitize everything – every process and procedure. Treverity obviously benefits from this trend. But “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  We always take care to ensure that there are backup process and tools – either built into our solutions, or designed to work with them. Technology can fail. Unforeseen circumstances occur. People in the control room and the field need to have the flexibility to improvise. Our Damage Assessment mobile application is built to work off-line, when cell phone coverage is down, and it supports working with existing paper EOP (Emergency Operation Procedure) processes. And during Hurricane Harvey, while Houston was experiencing unprecedented flooding, Treverity and CenterPoint Energy rapidly developed new applications – during the storm – to address the unique circumstances Harvey threw at us. 

We don’t wish for storms – they can be devastating. But, with systems that empower the operator, we do try to help our utility customers respond better during storms.