TRENDS & TECHNOLOGY

Four Technological Innovations That Can Aid Utilities in Disaster Recovery

POSTED BY TURTLE & HUGHES COMMUNICATIONS BLOG IN PERSPECTIVES, SERVICES


 
Hundreds of natural disasters have hit the continental United States in the last decade, causing billions of dollars of damage and costing lives. This year, Hurricane Harvey caused extreme flooding in parts of Houston, Texas (and affected Louisiana and Alabama), causing more than $65 billion worth of damage. Hot on the heels of Harvey, major hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged Florida and many Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico. Last year, a wildfire in Tennessee cost $1 billion, floods impacted Louisiana and West Virginia, and a historic blizzard dumped three feet of snow in parts of the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic.

 

Such extreme events happen every year and must be planned for, even though the specifics of these events will remain unknown until just before they strike. Utility and industrial plants bear a particularly significant burden of responsibility for disaster preparedness, because one of the things that hampers rescue and recovery efforts is a lack of power.

 

Disaster recovery for energy networks is a highly complex process, involving multiple layers of systems, processes, infrastructure and applications, all dependent on one another. This complex system means it’s also extremely difficult to back up. In essence, nothing can really replace the energy grid — that’s why utilities have to be ready to do everything they can to get the original system back up and running. Today, that effort is hugely aided by the application of new technologies, including social media, smart grids, the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile applications.

Use Cases for Social Media

Many people will have seen the Facebook feature to “check in” when they’re on the scene of a natural disaster to let friends and family know they’re all right. But social media can also help disaster recovery. According to a Vanguard paper for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), there are four main functions for social media in disaster preparedness, response and recovery:

  • Information dissemination
  • Disaster planning and training
  • Collaborative problem-solving and decision-making
  • Information gathering

 

While the OECD applies this widely across all disaster recovery, it applies specifically to utilities too. Companies can use social media to get information to both the public and their employees before and during a crisis. They can also use gamification for disaster planning and training, with rewards and leaderboards that recognize participants internally or publicly on social media. Social media can also play a role in facilitating problem-solving and collaboration between emergency services, government agencies and other stakeholders during an extreme event. And finally, using social media can help utilities get a firm grasp of the situation on the ground, through on-the-scene footage and citizen journalism.

Smarter Energy Networks and the Internet of Things

Smart grid can also come to the rescue by helping to “minimize interruptions during an extreme weather event by effectively managing unplanned outages, as well as enhancing the restoration of energy infrastructure after a storm, ” according to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

 

Smart distribution, for example, helps utilities to restore the healthy sections of the grid after a fault without manual intervention. Companies can also utilize software, such as integrated distribution management systems (IDMS), to deliver real-time information on outages to field personnel on their mobile devices.

 

Industrial IoT applications are another facet of “smarter” networks. Smart cities that have intelligent traffic controls and CCTV, emergency alert systems and smart meters for utilities are more resilient to disaster and have better disaster management and recovery. As industrial IoT applications spread, smart sensors will proliferate and the network of intelligent communications will become denser, promising to vastly multiply the amount of data companies, including utilities, can access during and after a disaster.

Disaster Apps for Remote Command

A variety of tasks can be taken care of through apps, so your command center can be miles away from disaster and still managing the situation on the ground.

 

Apps enable enterprises and organizations to push the latest updated disaster recovery plan to the disaster response team’s smartphones or tablets, direct staff to meeting locations, pass on vital information and allow team members to collaborate across the disaster site. The utility’s headquarters could be right in the middle of the event, but staff can still access back-up systems through the cloud so they can get to work.

 

Getting the power back on in an emergency will never be an easy job, but equipped with the latest technologies, utilities can have a more effective disaster recovery plan in place that can operate regardless of the circumstances.

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