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Utilities Role in Safe Cities

Eric Charette's picture
Senior Vice President & Executive Consultant GridBright

Mr. Eric J. Charette currently serves as a Senior Vice President and Executive Consultant for GridBright.  Previously, Eric was part of the Hexagon leadership team in the role of...

  • Member since 2012
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  • Jul 6, 2018

To be a safe city, you have to be a smart city. And vice versa. 

Safe cities must not only protect people and property, but also economic activity, the environment, and the public perception of the city as a safe place to live, work, and visit.  Safety in cities is achieved through multiple services working with singular purpose on common objectives.  Safe cities aren’t defined by a single device, application, solution, or vendor.

But why should an investor owned utility care about participating in, or leading a smart city initiative? After all, most utilities provide service to dozens of counties and power to hundreds of cities. 

To answer this question, we can focus on three key areas where utilities can enable a safer city by making it a smarter city, working with other local agencies. 

Increasing Situational Awareness

No single emergency response entity has a complete view since they all provide services in different sectors. Utilities are responsible for power restoration, while first responders are responsible for safeguarding the public. In the case of storm damage with downed power lines, these two agencies have a single mission. Without understanding the big picture, it compromises their ability to tackle fundamental safety issues of keeping the public clear. So it seems logical that the utility should be working harmoniously with police and fire but all too often they each operate in silos.

Optimized Data Sharing and Connectivity

Using shared information and tools, utilities and public safety agencies can break down silos to manage major incidents more effectively. The integration of back office systems provides the connectivity between all responders who are managing response for the same activity. Intelligence allows agencies to leverage data and information to make better, more informed decisions.  This can be as simple as sharing location based GPS information of linemen restoring power with police dispatchers, and officer locations with the utility. Often police will stand by and guard a down wire, but with the chaos of large storms, there is little visibility of this officer to a utility IT system. If the police agency can see the order details being managed by the utility from their OMS, they can see the estimated time of arrival and know when they will be relieved of duty. This makes everyone safer by being smarter. 

Improving Collaboration

Sharing of data is just the first step toward improved response. A tactical action plan must be developed and implemented to make the most of this connected data between agencies. Collaboration is the action required once a utility and first responders have increased their situational awareness through sharing of data. For without action, a plan has no value. Coordinated action enables utilities and cities to better manage major incidents. Regular table top exercises to test emergency response plans ensure that when the situation is real, everyone knows their role and can execute the plan. 

There is no such thing as a safe city in a box from a single vendor. It is multiple vendors and multiple agencies working together to increase situational awareness through data sharing to improve collaboration. Working together, utilities and local agencies can increase the safety in the communities they serve. 

Sam Mullen's picture
Sam Mullen on Jul 16, 2018

I agree that virtually everything written in this piece offers potential advancement and improvement in safety, coordination, communications and other efficiencies relative to outage restoration.  However, there remains the issue of timing that will continue to overshadow the advancements in technology, security and restoration in the cities being served.  This includes the timing of coordinated training of both utility personnel as well as police, fire, rescue and all responders.  The training becomes very complex when we add the introduction of new systems, Incident Command, disparities in the knowledge of how power systems operate as well as the priorities for restoration on T&D systems.  Add to that the fact that there are differences in the way restoration timing is calculated, based on damage levels for the various facilities in various states of disrepair.  This is why utilities usually have estimates for overall restoration, leading to further refinement down to the neighborhood as drones and ground surveyors process data back to analysts and eventually to the crew leaders.  Parallel to the process is ongoing analysis of safety being maintained throughout system and service restoration. An amazing amount of information monitoring, sharing and tracking goes on during more severe storms and sorting and loading of the information so it can be effectively shared remains a challenge, even when prioritized in concrt with OMS. Excellent article, however, and we can agree there is much we can improve.

Eric Charette's picture
Thank Eric for the Post!
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