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First Responders, Situational Awareness, and the Future of Shared Utility Data

February 28, 2020

When a major storm hits an urban area, the result can be a loss of power to large parts of the city. First responders depend on the quick restoration of electricity to support their numerous relief efforts. Electric companies now have the capability to share utility outage data with various relief crews, in real-time.  This vital information allows first responders to understand the full extent of the outage, prioritize resources, and help those most in need.

Utility data collection on its own does little to help response teams, but when shared and presented properly, data can have a massive impact. With the following capabilities, shared data among utility operations and first responders delivers the situational awareness needed to address outages quickly and efficiently:

1  Availability

Utility data collection does little when it is siloed inside various utility companies, yet data sharing among entities remains difficult in many cases. Even the federal government relies on “screen scraping” techniques to track outages, which gives only 85% visibility as a result. That means 15% of the grid could be left dark without government officials knowing. Utility companies must make utility data readily available to the right people.

2  Standardized Formatting

Analyzing and distributing utility data is harder when different data sets are in different formats. For greater ease of distribution, data can be standardized either on the level of the utility provider or on the level of the software. On the utility level, companies can standardize data by following the Common Information Model, which is common for reporting outages based on the International Electrotechnical Commission’s guidelines. Or, the software can use the proper APIs to translate a range of data types into a standardized format to be shared more easily among relevant entities.

3  Real-time Alerts

Historical information is important when it comes to predicting trends or capacity levels, but it doesn’t do much to address outages as they happen. Without access to real-time data, responders can’t determine where to direct their resources, and utility companies have fewer insights into the problem. Real-time data sharing is necessary for addressing events as they happen, and targeted notifications can alert the right individuals for a more efficient process that improves response times.

4  A Common Operational Picture

Sharing information is only half the battle. It is also important to deliver that data in a meaningful and easy-to-read manner. Utilities data should be displayed in a way that enables teams to take action. For instance, many utilities use online maps to present outage information. Those same maps must be mobile-friendly to be of use to first responders on the go. All relevant individuals working in the field should have access to the best information available presented clearly and in real-time. 

5  Efficient Communication Channels

People on the ground need to be able to communicate easily and efficiently about the data they receive. Clear messaging and communication channels can help increase actionability and urgency around data by enabling the discussion of tasks or events to determine next steps and workflows.

Shared data is an imperative tool for utility operations to communicate with first responders when citizens are most in need. The data itself may already be abundant, but targeted upgrades are necessary for helping teams maximize their potential in the future of the utility industry.

Download our whitepaper, “A Brave New World of Data Sharing Between Utility Companies,” to learn more.