Author Archives: Bill Meehan
We have a burglar who visits our house regularly. Unlike most burglars, he or she only steals small, mostly unimportant items. Aside from an occasional sock, the stolen goods are almost always tools that I use around the house. I know they are being stolen, since I always remember exactly where I have put a tool once I’m done using it. Then, when I go to use that tool again, it’s gone—stolen. It’s not the value of the tool that is important to me; it’s the time I waste looking everywhere in vain for it. The funny part is that the burglar always returns the stolen items (except for the unmatched sock). The interesting part is that he or she puts the items in a completely different location from where I leave them.
This same thing often happened at the utility company where I used to work. Our crews would carefully and precisely document the location of every piece of equipment that they installed. Yet during a power failure or a project, the equipment—like a transformer, a valve, or a switch—would be mysteriously stolen at some point and returned to a different location. And like my experience at home, the crews would waste precious time looking for the equipment that was supposed to be in one location but was somewhere else. This was especially frustrating in the case of underground cables. Someone apparently was digging up the cables and moving them sometimes 10 feet or more. And during a power failure, customers would have to wait longer for their power to be restored because of the utility’s lack of knowledge of where things were. Finally, this lack of precise location information created safety issues. This reminds me of the time that the burglar at my house returned my box knife. He or she placed it, with the blade exposed, into a box reserved for cleaning rags. I stuck my hand into the box and cut myself—all because of a lack of information about where.
My granddaughter, Gloria, interviewed me for a school project. One of her questions was, “Where were you when you asked your wife [her grandmother] out for your first date?” I, of course, remember it like it was yesterday. I answered, “It was in a phone booth in Harvard Square in Cambridge.” She looked at me quizzically and asked, “What’s a phone booth, Pop?” Her phone was tucked away in her back pocket.
Funny how fast things disappear from our collective memory.
When I first worked for a power company, one of my projects was to fix the many issues with the mapping department. Back then, everything was manual: the drafting, the reproduction, and the distribution of prints of the ancient paper maps. Those old things were notoriously out-of-date. The field offices had stacks of map sheets that needed to be filed. Most of the field supervisors kept their own sets of marked-up map prints. It was a mess.
ArcGIS Makes It Simple to Answer the Why
My wife’s Auntie Sadie was born old. I’ve seen pictures of her when she was in her late thirties and, even then, she looked old. One of her most endearing qualities was her wisdom. Maybe that’s why she looked old, because she was so wise. When our kids misbehaved, Sadie would be able to look at things from a number of different angles, take apparently unrelated information, and craft her wise analysis of the reasons for the misbehavior. Her special gift was analysis.
In my last two posts, I described three things that the ArcGIS platform does that can transform the way an electric company does its business. They each begin with the letter A. The first is access—the simple ability to give everyone in the company (as well as others such as customers, first responders, and the media) the ability to see its important information on a map, regardless of which device they use, where they are, or what time it is.
Several years ago, Esri standardized the naming convention for its industry user conferences. For years, the name of the Electric and Gas User Group event was the EGUG Conference. Rather than use the name EGUG, we came up with Esri Electric and Gas GIS Conference or EEGGC. A couple of years ago, we were helping Jack Dangermond — founder, president and owner of Esri — with the video welcome to the EEGCC. We reminded him several times the conference name was now EEGGC and not EGUG.
It didn’t matter.
Dangermond proudly stated, Welcome to EGUG! So much for standardization. The good news is that the name EGUG is officially back, but with a slight twist. We are creating something new, an overarching event that includes EGUG and for the first time the Telecommunication User Group (TelUG). We are calling the event GeoConX hence EGUG @ GeoConX and TelUG @ GeoConX.
GIS Increases Awareness
There is a significant shift in how electric utilities use geographic information system (GIS) technology. In the old days and maybe even now, utility staff thought GIS was a system that automates the mapping process. And yes, it could also provide good information to other critical systems, such as outage management systems (OMS) or distribution management systems (DMS). Advanced utilities even used GIS to help in the design and construction of their facilities. That’s all great.
Smashing Information Silos and Connecting People with the Data They Need
When I worked for the power company, I liked to ride around town with my colleague Paul.
Paul was a troubleshooter, an on-call worker who hung out in his bucket truck, waiting for something to go wrong on the grid. While the job may sound like a cakewalk, troubleshooters were almost always busy. Once someone reported a problem, Paul would get a call from the dispatcher and then race to the location of a power failure. He would quickly locate where the failure occurred; radio in an assessment of the damage; and, if possible, fix the problem.
Many of the issues troubleshooters encountered were caused by tree limbs falling on the exposed lines, causing a short circuit and blowing a fuse. Another common problem occurred when unwitting squirrels would use the power lines as a convenient path from one source of nuts to another. (The squirrels usually didn’t make it.) Each time, Paul would uncover the burned tree limb on the ground, or find the fried squirrel, then figure out which fuse blew and replace it. Problem solved in most cases. Continue reading
Pairing Brains and Brawn to Power Tomorrow’s Cities
I attended one of the worst junior high schools in the Greater Boston area. It stood for 100 years, pumping out students who were mostly ill-equipped to handle the rigors of high school. There were two types of kids there: the tough kids and the smart kids.
The tough kids were the sons and daughters of gangsters or future gangsters. Most had lingered at the junior-high level well beyond the minimum of three years. Not only were they tough, they were also pretty old and big for junior high school, which made things that much worse for the rest of us.
I was one of the smart kids. Sadly for me, smart kids bore the brunt of the tough kids’ harassment. Hardly a day went by when someone did not confiscate my lunch money, knock my books out of my arms, or push me onto the weedy school yard blacktop. On particularly bad days, a tough kid would threaten to burn me with a cigarette. Summer vacation was like a reprieve from prison. Of course, the smart kids got their revenge later in life with good jobs, nice families, and houses in the suburbs. Most of the tough kids ended up spending their remaining days in the Cedar Junction or Norfolk prison. At least, that was my wish. Continue reading
Drive Business Value with the Three A’s of ArcGIS
Years ago, I worked at a power company for one of the most interesting people I can remember. Bob was brilliant, articulate—and paranoid. He didn’t trust anyone. He believed that many of the folks working for him were goofing off all the time. (Not me, of course!) He would even sneak around the city in the middle of the night to try to catch night shift crews in the act of not working.
Bob had a number of operations groups working for him. I ran one of those groups. He was also in charge of an administrative group that performed a variety of functions such as checking police detail invoices, preparing dispatcher reports, and filing circuit maps. Bob hated this group. He couldn’t understand why it even existed.
One day, Bob had had enough. He decided to simply blow up the department. All his managers—myself included—warned him that this was a risky move. We believed that if the group failed to exist, something bad was sure to happen. A critical report or regulation filing would go missing. We could get into trouble. Surely, this department was doing valuable work for the company. Continue reading
Managing the Three Ts of Electric Transmission with GIS
Where were you on August 14, 2003, at 4:00 p.m. (Eastern time)? That’s when much of the northeastern United States was blacked out. No power. Sweaty office workers stuck in elevators from Manhattan to Cleveland. Traffic signals dead everywhere. Tons of food spoiled. At the time, people were still wary from the September 11 attacks.
The culprit for disaster this time? Well, there were many. But two of them were rather skinny Ailanthus trees that had become a little too big for their britches.
The trees grew too close to the heavily loaded Stuart-Atlanta 345 kV transmission line, a major power corridor between the United States and Canada. When transmission lines carry a lot of power, their conductors sag. As fate would have it, at the worst possible time, the sagging lines came in contact with those two little trees. So the line tripped out. This was one in a series of cascading events—which created one of the largest power failures in the nation’s history. Continue reading