Back-to-Back Hurricanes Won’t Stop Cooperatives From Having Each Other’s Back

Collaborating To Serve Communities

Over a six day period in August 2017, Hurricane Harvey ripped through Texas and Louisiana, dumping 27 trillion gallons of rain on area residents. Nearly a quarter-million people were reported to be without power soon after Hurricane Harvey made landfall. An estimated 75 million dollars in losses were attributed to the hurricane. When commenting on Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, U.S. Representative for Texas’ 18th congressional district Sheila Jackson Lee said, “The word catastrophic does not appropriately describe what we’re facing.” Shortly after Hurricane Harvey laid down its path of destruction, Hurricane Irma set its sights on Florida. An equally powerful storm, Hurricane Irma plowed through Florida and worked its way up through Georgia. An estimated 6,300,000 people were ordered to evacuate Florida and 1,300,000 were without power across Florida in the first four hours after the hurricane made landfall.

The Challenge

As both storms settled, residents of Texas and Florida lay in the wake of staggering amounts of damage and destruction. It was all hands on deck as electric membership cooperatives pulled together, calling available crews to help tackle the massive amount of power outages. Taylor Electric Cooperative in Texas and Coast Electric Power Association in Mississippi sent out crews to affected cooperatives, sometimes states away, to assist restoration efforts. Both Taylor EC and Coast EPA relied on Futura Systems’ FieldPro mobile suite of mapping tools, but each cooperative was limited to using FieldPro with their utility’s own mapping system. To assist a cooperative not equipped with FieldPro, they had to use paper maps for navigation and outage tracking. To quickly help rebuild the impacted power grids, Taylor EC and Coast EPA needed working maps that would deliver more intel on the ground. Taylor Electric Cooperative’s FieldPro Coordinator Lynn Hayes had an inkling their cooperative could get system access to non FieldPro user maps, but needed to discuss the logistics further with Futura Systems’ FieldPro Team. Hayes reached out to the FieldPro specialists to inquire about ways the co-op could use the software to support non FieldPro users in such a massive power restoration endeavor. At the same time, Coast EPA’s GIS Supervisor Jay Santinelli was working with FieldPro’s Implementation and Support Team Member AJ Cerilli to come up with similar mapping solutions.

The Solution

Spurred by Taylor EC’s and Coast EPA’s FieldPro mapping inquiries, Futura’s FieldPro team started to brainstorm ways the two utilities could have non-user maps loaded to the FieldPro applications. Futura team members immediately realized that they needed access to data from each of the impacted systems in order to go further in the map creation process.

Once Futura was granted cooperative data access, creating and downloading the maps to Taylor EC and Coast EPA’s system was relatively easy. As FieldPro Solutions Manager Nicholas Gwinn describes the process, “FieldPro’s core infrastructure easily allows for the simple transfer of one co-op’s data into an in-house mapping system. Then, we can upload that map to a specific location on anyone’s server and view it through the FieldPro software anywhere in the field, no integration required.”

Futura’s FieldPro experts were well aware that not all of a cooperative’s data could be used, like a customer’s personal information. Cerilli describes how the team protected personal information while creating the non-user FieldPro maps. “To protect the clients, we conducted a data scrub that stripped out consumer information like names, addresses, and phone numbers. The full extent of the service area was given without those sensitive client details, and FieldPro users were able to download other area maps as if they were their own.”

Cerilli goes on to add, “Even though we removed all personal information, we added a couple of layers to the map that were related to hurricane damage. We added areas where the most damage was expected and where they were most likely to experience a high volume of outages. Those areas were specifically labeled Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma damage. It wasn’t a full map, but it showed the relevant primary conductor details.”

To ensure Coast EPA was fully equipped with the proper mapping information, Cerilli spent a whole day working remotely with Santinelli and several Coast EPA team members. Cerilli sat down one-on-one with the Coast EPA team to create maps that were just right for their recovery-assisting needs and conducted tests on their iPads to make sure the crew was comfortable with using other service area maps out in the field.

Since current FieldPro clients had previously received the proper software training and were experienced with using their own area maps, there wasn’t a huge learning curve with the addition of other service area maps. Gwinn explains, “It’s just a one-time static deployment and they hit the ground running.”

The Results

The quick map creation and deployment was a success. Taylor EC and Coast EPA were able to utilize FieldPro in ways they previously didn’t know was possible and helped their cooperative family in the greatest time of need. Looking back, Gwinn recollects some of the feedback the FieldPro team was provided from Taylor EC and Coast EPA. “They were all blown away by the map deployment and couldn’t believe we were able to do it so quickly.”

Santinelli was thrilled with the collaborative mapping initiative the FieldPro team took and the individualized attention from Cerilli. “This was a big win for the Coast EPA GIS Department and I couldn’t have done it without Futura’s help,” he says. “The Futura team is really on the ball with everything we have going on, and a special thanks to AJ.”

The mapping collaboration between FieldPro’s users and non-users has spurred Futura to think about ways they can continue to offer similar mapping technology as that used after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to help out in times of crisis. Currently the FieldPro team is discussing the possibility of a cloud-based storm assistant model. With the rapidity of cloud deployment, Futura would be able to offer a temporary FieldPro license, coordinate the uploading and scrubbing of the utility’s pertinent data, and then deploy a network infrastructure map to use in the field.

As storms come and go, the eagerness among cooperatives to help and support one another remains the same. The partnership between cooperatives and Futura further demonstrates the tenacity to provide aid in a time of need and even led to discovering innovative ways to overcome restoration challenges.