The city-owned utility has rolled out a new Damage Assessment Restoration Toolset ahead of hurricane season. The real-time software will deliver "quicker information, better information and more accurate information."
(TNS) — Lakeland Electric's system of assessing storm damage has made the leap from handwritten notes into the 21st century.
Korey Bush, LE's chief electric system operator, said the city-owned utility has rolled out a new Damage Assessment Restoration Toolset, called DART for short, ahead of the peak hurricane season. Bush said the real-time software will deliver "quicker information, better information and more accurate information" that will greatly speed up its response time.
"This is the culmination of the trial and error that goes with a hurricane's aftermath," he said. "It's so much more than downed power lines and power restoration."
In 2017, Hurricane Irma left roughly 78,000 Lakeland Electric customers without power. The municipal utility had its grid back up and fully restored in 12 days, according to Bush, but the process made clear there was room for improvement.
"We used paper maps to do the initial damage assessments. We used paper time sheets to document the hours spent, we used paper sheets to track all the materials used," he said. "It worked for many years, but coming out of Irma, with the size of the storm and the impact it had, it was looked at. We realized we can do better."
Bush said 11-inch-by-17-inch maps of the utility's network were handed to crews, who manually walked the route handwriting notes on the damage to lines and poles, then delivered it back to the office. These damage reports sometimes didn't reach line crews for up to 12 hours.
"It was the driver of change," Bush said. "Anytime you have a natural disaster you are going to look at your lessons learned."
A trio of Lakeland Electric staff members, Matthew Krok, Connie Rossman and recently retired Bob Ross, began the two-year process of developing the custom software in-house. Similar programs can cost from $300,000 to $400,000.
"They didn't invent this program," Bush said. "But they saw the potential of all those tools and were able to pull what we needed together."
Lakeland Electric's crews can fan out across the city with iPads to use DART, regardless of whether Wi-Fi is available, to provide real-time data on a storm's damage. Workers pinpoint a location on the utility's map, similar to marking a destination on Google Maps, and must answer a checklist of questions. Bush said the report requires the assessor to indicate the exact power line and substation involved, if poles or wires are damaged, a transformer affected or a down tree needs to be removed.
"We also give them 100 characters to type in general information, like 'pole broken' or 'wire on ground,' something simple," he said.
Lakeland Electric's management can immediately use this information to better deploy its crews and any mutual aid.
"It's important to know if we can get a bucket truck to it," Bush said. "If we can get a truck there it's quicker."
The software logs and compiles all the incoming damage reports from crews across the city, marking GPS coordinates and attaching any photos taken at the site. These details are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement of repairs. Lakeland Electric is still waiting to receive more than $10 million it has requested from FEMA for Hurricane Irma repairs.
Commissioner Stephanie Madden saw Bush present the DART system at a Florida municipal utilities' conference and said she was proud of the company's ingenuity. She recognized those involved at a utility commission meeting earlier this month.
The DART system is being looked at by other municipal-owned electric companies in the state, including Keys Energy Services based in Key West, for their own use.
"We are impressed with Lakeland's DART and are looking how it could be used by KEYS and how it would integrate with our existing software programs," said Lynne Tejeda, KEYS' general manager and CEO.
Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7545.
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