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SETLabs Briefings VOL 6 NO 2 2008

Lull after the Storm: Disaster Management for Utilities By Jafrullah Mohammed

Geographic Information System plays a pivotal role in effective Disaster Management for the utilities


isasters, both natural and man-induced,

quickly analyzed. Much of the information used

like hurricanes, winter storm, fire, flood

for disaster management has a spatial dimension

hazardous material incident and terror-strikes

that is reflected in questions as: Where are critical

take their toll on utilities every year. Among the

facilities located? What is the best route? What

62 weather-related disasters that United States

is the area of impact? How will the size of the

sustained between 1980 and 2004, Hurricane

impacted area change over time? What is the

Katrina (August 2005) was the costliest and

size of affected service area? How many people

one of the deadliest hurricanes the country had

are in the affected service area? What resources

ever seen. The storm is estimated to have been

are located close by?

responsible for $81.2 billion (U.S. dollars) in




damage, making it the costliest natural disaster

infrastructure is a must to answer these

in U.S. history [1].

questions, to help in effective and timely

With such repeated anticipated abuses

decision making in protecting the assets and

on the utility industry, the companies bear a moral

people. The capability to analyze spatial

responsibility to protect employees, comply with

information (provided by GIS) helps in all

various regulations, minimize loss of services and

phases of the emergency response management

possible damage to equipment, reduce exposure

such as: identifying the equipment that may

to civil or criminal liability and restore the

be impacted by the disaster; identifying the

services at the earliest. Providing more accurate

related/connected equipment that needs to be

restoration estimates is the primary customer

turned off to minimize further loss; tracking

satisfaction issue in the utility industry.

the closest truck/crew to the affected area;

Good disaster management requires information that is accurate, current, timely, and

finding the fastest/safest route to reach the location; locating the equipment on location and


depicting the restoration progress as thematic

customer warning; inventory; and maintenance

maps at regular time intervals for efficient

of supplies and equipment.

tracking through management dashboard. This article discusses a GIS based

Respond: During disaster events, customers

Application Framework that is required for a

look to the utility for information and the status

utility to effectively manage a disaster when it is

of restoration activities. Strategic Customer

struck by major disaster.

Response will ensure that activities during the event and the aftermath are managed in such


a way that the impact is minimized and that

Disasters are characterized by the scope of an

customers are kept informed. These response

emergency. An emergency becomes a disaster

activities should be central to the plan as

when it exceeds the capability of the local

customers are the utilityâ€&#x;s reason for existence.

resources to manage it and a disaster often results in great damage, loss, or destruction [2].

Recover: Post disaster, the priority turns to

Disasters can be effectively managed with the help of a Geographical Information System based application framework

Emergency management activities can

recovery from its effects and building resilience

be grouped into the following four phases that

into the business by ensuring that plans,

are related by time and function to all types of

procedures and resources are in place. This

emergencies and disasters. These phases are also

would minimize or eliminate the effects of

co-related to each other as they move from one to

future events and business operations can go on

the other and do not exist in isolation.

with minimal disruption. The leanings from the events are then gathered and used to update and

Prepare: In this phase, the process begins

finetune the plans and procedures.

with a full and detailed review of all existing emergency plans and business continuity plans

Mitigate: Mitigation efforts attempt to prevent

(BCP) to maintain critical operations in the event

hazards from developing into disasters or

of disruption from new classes of threat. During

to reduce the effects of disasters when they

the phase, utilities develop action plans for an

occur. The mitigation phase differs from the

anticipated disaster. Common preparedness

other phases because it focuses on long-term

measures include proper maintenance and

measures for reducing or eliminating risk. The


implementation of mitigation strategies can be





development and exercise of emergency

considered as a part of the recovery process, if


applied post-disaster. However, even if applied

Systems (WMS),

as part of the recovery efforts, actions that reduce

adopted automated geospatial and information

or eliminate risk over time are still considered

technology to assist in the daily management of

mitigation efforts. Mitigation is the most cost-


efficient method for reducing the impact of

as utilities



A DMgS needs to handle when a utility is


struck by an event. It should be designed to provide Geo-spatial and information technology

a common operational view of the disaster to all the

plays an important role in enabling disaster

parties that include utilities‟ higher management,

management with the capabilities mentioned

field restoration crews, Emergency Operations

above. Every utility needs to improve decision

Centers (EOC)/Emergency Command Centers

making during emergencies, so that it can

(ECC), government, local authorities, customers,

restore service as quickly as possible while

neighboring utilities and emergency responders

minimizing risk to repair crews and the general

etc. The design should consider programming


intelligence to analyze costs and benefits of a

Disaster Management System should be so designed that GIS is ably integrated in it. Only then, can multiple decision alternatives can be had of


variety of “what if” scenarios to effectively acquire


and deploy resources to address the operational

Unfortunately, in the recent past the disasters


caused from storms have become more intense

The design should include the capability

and/or frequent. Utilities, particularly electric

to integrate with GIS to be able to suggest a

distribution systems, are more prone to storms

variety of decision alternatives, through analysis

than any other types of disasters. Hence storm

and present various scenarios from spatial

disaster management has become a challenge

perspective. It should also have the capability to

for the utilities. This paper particularly focuses

store all activities for a replay so that utilities can

on disaster management for disasters caused

re-visit the “scene” to enable storm personnel to

specifically by storms, in the following sections.

learn and practice under a multitude of scenarios





System (DMgS)


This would


needs to be designed to operate in conjunction

minimize the potential for costly mistakes during

with existing operation systems of a utility

actual incidents.

that include Outage Management Systems

The affected utility has the need to act

(OMS), Geographic Information system (GIS),

fast and with utmost efficiency to inform

Asset Management and Work Management

customers and restore power as quickly


as possible. But the very magnitude of the

successfully integrate the foreign crews and

destruction would have taxed the utility‟s

equipment including accommodation, boarding

physical resources beyond its limits. The

and transport. As resources are put in place,

intelligence component of the DMgS should

the system should automatically assign tasks

enable managers to take quick decisions. It

and schedule them in accordance with defined

should also support control room operators and

restoration goals and priorities. Incoming field

field service crews who can aid significantly in

crews should be able to log directly into the

split-second decision-making. The demand for

system with their mobile data devices through

information about the extent of damage and what-

the web browser. They should be immediately

is-to-be-done-about-it comes in simultaneously

brought up to speed with real-time status reports

from every direction and from different sources.

and identification of duties including on-board

Total restoration planning should have the

equipment needs, special skills requirements,

ability to provide groups of customers with the

job locations and priorities.

most accurate range of times they are planned to

Regardless of the size of a storm,

be restored and is often based on priority with

communications management is of extreme

the most urgent being attended to first. This

importance and an equally demanding task for

could range from security and public safety to

an operator. Being a part of DMgS, the system

critical infrastructure such as hospitals, crucial

needs to track all activities and generate proper

public utilities to extended care facilities, to the

reports for internal and external agencies

largest single group per specific repair and until

including, amongst others, utility management,

the last customer is re-energized.

police, medical emergency, media, customers,

The DMgS




stakeholders, and government departments.

defined basic business rules to support mutual

Another important aspect that DMgS

aid management, where help from neighboring

needs to have is the support for EOC/ECC.

utilities and contractors is identified. The system

They are established to connect with local

should have integrated workflows with the

emergency services, law enforcement and other

external/neighboring utilities or a resource

key municipal, provincial, state, and/or federal

co-coordinator, so that the utility can start

agencies that can log directly into the EOC/ECC

immediately, releasing accurate data to the

liaison area and access updated requests made

outside and begin making informed decisions

by the utility. This includes auto-scheduling

about external help-requirements based on cost

to assist the relative agencies in deployment

and desired restoration times.

of their own specific resources. Reciprocally, it

The DMgS also needs to be designed to

should allow the EOC/ECC to notify the utility

take care of the entire restoration process. Within

of security and public safety concerns such as

hours, the entire nature and size of the event can

roadblocks, collapsed buildings, toxic buildups,

change as dozens of field crews, repair vehicles,

fire and flood potential etc. All of these can be

outside contractors, equipment suppliers along

plotted to map displays for a “bird‟s eye view” of

with police/medical/emergency assistance and

the service territory. As sectors become secured,

on-site support services start arriving at the

the information is relayed to the EOC/ECC so

location. The DMgS needs to provide extensive

that operators can track progress right on their

procedural and logistical support needed to

computer screens. DMgS needs to manage all


Figure 1: An Application Framework for Disaster Management

Source: Infosys Research

logistics amongst the huge volumes of data being

prediction of when a customer would have her

generated daily during a restoration project and

service restored.

should have operations log facility to track and


subsequent section describes

record all major communications between the

a framework of applications required to be

EOC/ECC and the utility for future reference.

part of disaster management infrastructure

DMgS needs to manage the restoration

for forecasting weather/disasters, assessing

process and utilize the internet so that users

damage, tracking damage, prioritizing work

from upper management to the repair crew,

orders, organizing logistics, people managing

from virtually any location, can truly maximize

and systems for a safe and efficient recovery [Fig.

time and efforts to get their lights back on. DMgS

1]. Even though the approach discussed here

also needs to present/share a big picture of

mainly focuses on disasters created by storms,

restoration progress (probably using a map) to

the infrastructure requirements are more or less

all the stakeholders. Being informed and better

similar for other disasters as well.

equipped for the worst, provides the foundation

Listed below are some of the important

for more competent, effective and quicker

applications of a Disaster Management System

restoration efforts in the future.

and their functionalities.



DMgS framework needs to encompass the best

will have forecasting engine to predict the weather

of all functionalities to address preparedness,

changes, storm paths based on the current location

response and recovery to any outage situation

and its storm properties.

whatever may be the cause. Post disaster, the



This application



data in a userâ€&#x;s existing OMS must be further

application is part of Disaster Management

extrapolated to derive intelligence, for a better

System. The intelligence engine need not be an


integral part of the DMgS but it can be with other

This application supports creation of

disparate systems managed by external agencies

events in the DMgS facilitating the tracking of all

with a common agreed framework (such as Service

activities related to an event till its closure. There

Oriented Architecture ) to share information. For

may be several events like storms, occurring

example, weather intelligence can be provided

at the same time across the service areas. It is

by a third party agency which specializes in

essential to track all the activities related to these

this aspect and shares the information online.

events individually, as it helps to replay these

However, the real-time weather systems data is a

events subsequently in the system, as valuable

must and it is a very useful tool in implementing

learning can be fed back into the system as

storm preparations. GIS plays an important role

disaster intelligence. GIS helps in delineating

by plotting the weather/storm data on the map.

the affected areas, affected network segments,

For example when storm occurs, its predicted

marking the location of temporary work bases on

path can be plotted on the map and based on the

the map, delineating the critical infrastructure and

extent of its diameter predicted, affected area

linking with corresponding events. Restoration

can be shown on the map. That helps the utilities

schedules, restoration crews, work orders related

Loyalty of customers can be earned by reaching out to them at all times during the disaster period

to alert the “critical care customers� and helps in

to the restorations and actual expenditure are

placing crews on-call and/or holds crews at the

linked to the event in the system and tracked till

Area Work Centers to ensure timely response to

the closure of the same. Delineation of affected

events. Reaching out to customers before, during

areas on map using GIS over a long time helps

or after a power outage can go a long way towards

significantly in carrying out vulnerability analysis.

strengthening customer satisfaction. It is possible

Vulnerability analysis can be calculated in many

to reduce costs through automated calling and

ways, including the estimated value of damages

messaging technologies. This application can be

to the utility equipment and number of people

integrated with simple mail transport protocol

left without power for number of days. These can

(SMTP) servers and Short Messaging Services

be presented as maps of areas affected by a given

(SMS) servers for sending automated alerts.

hazard. This information again helps utilities

Alternatively, utilities can outsource these calls to

in the area of disaster preparedness. The audit

third-party call centers or through vendors that

history of all events-related changes is maintained

offer a sophisticated dialer that can deliver the

in the event manager. The event manager should

utilityâ€&#x;s message to the customer.

also be designed to handle the non-event related outages (outages not caused due to an event) at

Event Management: Application to create and

the time of an event, as the entire service area

track individual disaster/emergency events.

might not have been affected by an event.



A damage assessment

track restoration at individual level. A user

application to delineate and identify the affected


can define affected area from other sources of

network areas and affected customers.

information and add affected network circuits

More severe storms cause greater

to the affected area. The function should also

equipment damage that takes longer to repair.

support data coming from field assessment

The duration of the outage can also be affected

surveys and patrols through the field devices.

by the utilityâ€&#x;s storm planning and mobilization

GIS based field applications help carrying out

efforts. Equipment inventories and available

planned and quick damage assessment surveys

restoration personnel can have a direct impact

effectively. This function draws information

on the duration of a power outage, following a

from various sources and tries to derive the

major storm. This application helps emergency

extent of damage to the network.

managers in assessing the extent and amount of

GIS comes in handy, while depicting

damage. The goal is to devise a restoration plan

the affected/outage area on the map and plays

and determine whether it is necessary to bring

an important role in damage assessment and

GIS helps extensively in disaster management by playing a vital role in damage assessment and restoration planning, among other things

trouble-crews and crews from neighboring

restoration planning. After the initial damage

utilities on contract. One of the most accurate

assessment, the focus would be on restoring

means of evaluating storm damage is to

service to critical infrastructure such as schools,

document and analyze customer outage calls.

water treatment plants, critical pumping stations,

Existing OMS needs to be tweaked to handle

and hospitals [3].

large-sized outage tickets in addition to its task of handling routine outages. This helps in

Restoration Planner: A decision support system

scaling the existing outage workflows to handle

to help decision makers in planning the restoration

large sized emergency events without devising

activities based on built-in-intelligence from the

new work flows to handle mass outages. The

historical data.

OMS needs to generate trouble tickets in bulk in

With better planning, utilities can

conjunction with the event manager application,

respond quickly when customers need them

to match the affected network due to the storm.

the most. This is a decision support system that

For example, if a trouble ticket is raised on a

helps the managers in deriving “estimated time

network element, bulk trouble tickets need to

to restore,� based on the historical data and

be raised on connected downstream network

predictive intelligence (empirical models) built

elements/connections, in order to be able to

in the system over time.


This is one of the most complex

size of the restoration work. This application takes

applications as it has to derive the expected

care of work order creation for issue to external

restoration times considering the priorities,

contractors‟ internal business units, gangs and/

constraints and trade-offs. Predicting restoration

or individual resources and tracks expenditure

times at customer level is a very difficult and

at an asset level with the help of GIS-based asset

unreliable process and customers tend to be very

management system for restoration related work.

frustrated when they find themselves without

This function needs to be tightly coupled with

power at the predicted restoration time. Hence

asset management system and restoration crew

this needs to be done at city, county or region

management application. The emergency response

level. Since these expected restoration times are

team uses this information to prioritize outage

communicated to the customers, this application

management and assign crews. Dispatchers rely

attains utmost importance as it has to predict

on this to transmit work orders to trucks in the

the expected restoration times that are „near to

field. Coordinating the manpower and materials

reality.‟ GIS helps in linking these “expected times

for recovery is a logistical challenge. At the peak

to restore” (ETRs) which are derived for electric

of restoration activities, the storm recovery team

Restoration workflows if properly devised in advance can help the restoration team to track resource allocation and expenditure made at asset levels

circuits (feeders) to geographical (city, county

swells to a huge team in size. Bringing in these

etc.) boundaries and service area boundaries.

many resources, presents the challenge of getting

The Restoration Planning module aggregates

crews to and from work sites in unfamiliar areas

OMS data as well as damage survey data, crew

and managing work assignments to ensure a safe

availability and crew movement to estimate

restoration. GIS allows dividing service territory

restoration rates and durations. GIS helps in

into manageable work areas and providing map

accurate planning by providing travel distances,

sets for the crews. In addition, GIS can provide

alternate routes and shortest routes that can be

custom maps to meet special requests. Often field

linked with travel times for individual crews.

crews are assigned to work on a certain feeder until all customers on that feeder are restored. A

Restoration Work Management: This application

customized map, displaying just that feeder to

will have an extended functionality of existing work

show where the feeder ran and the location and

management system to take care of workflow related to

types of devices, proves invaluable.

the restoration related work execution.

GIS plays an important role in

Work management during the storms is a daunting task considering the emergency and

restoration progress tracking. Dynamic thematic maps generated depicting status of the outage


tickets on the geographical boundaries and





service boundaries presented on the internet

restoration data on the web for general public. By

greatly helps top management in understanding

linking with the restoration work management

the overall picture of restoration progress.

application, outage status information can be passed to a GIS application to create a

Restoration Crew Management: An application to

map for website showing the magnitude and

handle restoration crews with ability to take care of

general location of outages across the service

foreign crews from neighboring utilities.

territory. The web map is automatically

As the restoration process starts, a

updated periodically, as service is restored

large number of restoration crews along with

or new outages occur, displaying most recent

repair vehicles, outside contractors, equipment

information on the webpage. This can be an



important public resource that helps a utility

emergency assistance get into action. This

to meet the challenges presented by storms.

application takes care of work assignments,

Website visitors can see how many customers

crew dispatching and tracking including

are still without power and the general locations



GIS updated web maps can help the utility plan for the number of resources required for restoration and as also forecast the time required to restore services fully

support for arrangement of lodging, boarding

of the remaining outages. Utility can also

and transport. The application also integrates

show the number of resources/crews that are

the foreign crews from the neighboring utilities

physically working in that area and a forecast of

into its support processes.

the recovery work path can also be provided. Integration with the current day

Communication Management: A Communication

technologies like e-mail and SMS is essential to

Management Application to manage all the disaster

deliver timely information to all the stakeholders.

related communication -- internal as well as external.

Expected restoration time estimates are fed back

During the restoration effort, customers

into the CIS so that customer representatives or

need to be fed information on the progress and

the voice response unit (VRU) can inform callers

current work locations. This application tracks all

when their power will be restored.

activities and generates proper reports for internal and external agencies including amongst others,

Asset Tracking: An asset tracking module to track

utility management, police, emergency, medical

assets effectively at the time of emergencies with latest

emergency, media, customers, stakeholders, and

technologies like Global Positioning System (GPS)

government departments.

and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).


Utilities involve disasters that have

control, involving materials, crew deployment,

challenging asset-tracking needs. Radio frequency

restoration strategy, and support staff. This calls

identification technology can help utilities and

for the need to have a comprehensive systems

rescue workers to deploy equipments more

and application infrastructure that meets the

effectively during a crisis, and locate equipment

complex requirements of a DMgS. With labor

for retrieval once services are restored. GIS

accounting for a major percentage of outage

provides capabilities to show where trouble spots

costs, minimizing trouble-crew downtime by

are located on the map. The utility can equip its

several minutes can add up to millions of dollars

trouble trucks with GPS receivers and mobile data

in savings throughout the course of a multi-

terminals so that their movements can be tracked

storm season.

and displayed in real time. REFERENCES CONCLUSION

1. Billion Dollar Disasters: A Chronology of

Disasters are crucial moments for utilities. At the wake of a disaster, utilities have a moral responsibility to protect employees, comply

U.S. Events by LiveScience Staff. Available on 2. Russ Johnson, GIS Technology for

with various regulations, minimize loss of

Disasters and Emergency Management,

services and possible damage to equipment

An ESRI White Paper, May 2000

and reduce exposure to civil or criminal

3. Jafrullah



liability and restore services at the earliest.

Response Infrastructure for Utilities,

Restoration is always a complex challenge.

Mapworld Forum Conference, January

A significant aspect of the challenge is cost



Author Profile JAFRULLAH MOHAMMED Jafrullah Mohammed is a Senior Project Manager working for the GIS practice within Energy, Utilities and Services of Infosys. He has several years of experience in developing custom GIS applications and implementing Enterprise GIS systems in India and overseas. He can be contacted at

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Geographic Information System plays a pivotal role in effective Disaster Management for utilities