This special interest group supports professionals who are involved in the critical mission of restoring service, business continuity and effective emergency preparedness in gas and electric utilities. 

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New Ways Utilities Could Use RFID and Mobile for Improved Response

John Marshall's picture
President and CEO Coastal Partners Inc.

A nationally recognized leader in the energy industry, Mr. Marshall has senior level experience across management, mergers and acquisitions, marketing, operations, regulatory strategy, service...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jun 22, 2018
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With some exceptions, building and mobilizing crews for storm restoration is a largely manual technique. When outages are severe, say 50,000 or more accounts, it can take up to half a day for managers relying on manual processes to know just how hard they’ve been hit and start getting crews where needed. If you work at a utility that’s automated the process of crew-building, life is easier. But even for utilities with high-tech crew-building tools, restoration gets complex when you add crews from other power companies and far-flung contractors.

What’s needed is a way to track the movement of mutual assist crews across borders and into affected areas.

Imagine just a single convoy of 20 or 30 trucks snaking toward your territory in response to a call for mutual assistance. Or what about several thousand third-party crews descending on your service territory? Obviously, when someone in a digger derrick shows up, you know they’re not there for sightseeing. But known resources showing up in unknown quantities presents a challenge.

Keeping tabs on exactly who is coming (and their ETA) is one item in a long series of to-dos that storm center managers tackle. For utilities with automated resource management systems, better sharing and tracking of resources might be as simple as triggering a text or email as mutual assist crews cross a predetermined distance from their goal. Utilities could initiate that message with Lidar, or light detection and ranging, which is a mapping technology employed by self-driving vehicles. As the convoy neared, the requesting utility’s resource management tool would grab the message (including an inventory of everything and everyone on board) and update the storm center’s list of available crews and trucks for restoration.

Alternatively, utilities could create a QR code for each vehicle as a way to check in personnel sent for mutual assistance. Once trucks pulled into the staging area, storm center managers would know when a vehicle arrives, departs, returns and fuels up. As storm managers apply resources to different locations over the course of days and weeks, the QR code affixed to trucks would sync up crews with the locations they were working in. If that seems untenable, since virtually every worker has a smartphone, there certainly could be a way for crews and vehicles to self-register at staging sites and pass that data along to the storm center coordinators to help build crews and account for and dispatch resources.

Utilities could also suggest that their mutual assistance group adopt a unified radio-frequency identification (RFID) system tag on vehicles and equipment used for storm recovery. RFID technology combined with resource management software could assimilate every piece of equipment to give storm center managers a map of what’s entering, moving through and leaving the service territory. Whether the technology was a QR code, RFID tag or some other kind of marker, the code would be meaningless to anyone who doesn’t have a reason to have the information. The benefit would be knowing what’s happening in real time.

To dive deeper, utilities could steal a page from the NFL’s playbook and issue utility linemen the same kind of RFID tag that NFL linemen wear under their shoulder pads during games and practices. According to a report last summer from ESPN.com, New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton says RFID helps him track player performance and modify practice to cut back on injuries. Utility linemen already wear devices that detect high voltage when they’re in the hot zone. But imagine the benefits of RFID for knowing how many linemen you have on the ground and where they’re working at any given time. Linemen are the backbone of the industry. Knowing where utility linemen are and how best to deploy them could improve restoration without breaking the industry’s back.

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John Marshall's picture
Thank John for the Post!
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