There was consensus at the governor’s Two Storm Panel Wednesday morning that utilities and municipalities could do a better job at sharing storm damage data using Geographic Information System maps.
Communication between utilities and municipalities has often been cited as weak during assessments of the recovery efforts of both Tropical Storm Irene and October’s devastating snowstorm.
The eight-member panel appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy heard from state and municipal GIS analysts, as well as utility executives, who agreed that using the maps to share information would significantly reduce the amount of time spent on assessing damage after a storm.
Meghan McGaffin, a Milford GIS analyst, explained that some of the redundant assessment work can be avoided. For instance, AT&T used to have a program where it would contract flights for aerial assessments, she said. That information could be bought by towns for their own damage estimates, she said. Meanwhile, the state was also conducting flights for the same purpose, she said.
“So residents of Milford paid for two planes to fly overhead and they paid for that money with their utility bills, their local taxes and their state taxes,” she said. “Now that there’s a joint effort between the state and the federal, they’re going to be paying for it through their federal taxes too.”
McGaffin noted that AT&T has since discontinued the program, but said the information gained through the flights could have been added to an overlaid map that could be accessed by the utility, towns, and the state.
Another duplication of costs and effort occurs whenever McGaffin and her supervisor take time to go out with a GPS to gather information about utility poles, she said. That information already exists elsewhere, she said.
She said Milford’s extensive GIS information could have been helpful to United Illuminating after Tropical Storm Irene.
“If the utilities had come to our GIS office and said ‘what can you provide us to help us?’ we would have been more than happy to provide it. So it’s just my hope that this opens some form of communication between our entities,” she said.
Vernon GIS Coordinator Aaron Nash said that the town tried to use its GIS system after both storms to keep track of where damage had occurred. Vernon maintains a GIS map with specific addresses and they updated the map to reflect where residents reported downed trees and wires, he said. That assisted both emergency workers and tree removal crews, he said.
However, he said Connecticut Light and Power was not forthcoming with information to update the maps in the aftermath of the October storm. A circuit map requested on Monday did not arrive until Thursday, he said. The map would have been helpful for the town to determine whether it could bring up its commercial districts in an efficient manner to provide residents access to food and fuel, he said.
The town also requested a list of downed wire incidents reported to CL&P’s call center so they could compare it with their own map but he said that information never came.
But CL&P Vice President for Energy Delivery Ken Bowes said Wednesday the utility was recommending that a GIS users group be established to determine what information can be shared between the utility and the towns.
Bowes said CL&P maintains a map that serves as the basis for it electrical operating system. The map displays the company’s electric circuits, poles, wires, fuses and circuit breakers, he said. It is also tied to the utility’s outage management system and customer call centers, he said. While CL&P’s map is complicated and contains information that wouldn’t necessarily help municipalities, he said some of the information could be useful.
Towns could also provide the utility with important GIS data like road closures, damage assessment information, priority locations, and the locations of public works crews, Bowes said.
“Some of the things that we would like to see are probably just a small subset of what GIS could be used for,” he said.
CL&P could use information gathered by municipalities to give them a geographic representation of where the crews would be working on a day-to-day basis, he said.
Joe McGee, chairman of the panel, said the opportunity for collaboration could have real benefits for the state.
“My assumption is that if we share data, so that the data you’re requesting comes from the towns and is put into your system, it will speed up damage assessment significantly,” he said.
McGee asked Tyler Kleykamp, chairman of the Connecticut GIS Council, whether representatives of the utilities could be added to the council without legislative action. Kleykamp said he believed they could be. McGee said he would hold Kleykamp accountable for coming up with a new plan to collaborate with the utilities to use GIS improve post-storm damage assessment.
“Right now we have the municipalities paying for GIS, we have the state paying for GIS, we have access to [the Federal Emergency Management Administration], and we have the utility. I mean just sitting here does that make any sense we’re spending this kind of money for a system that doesn’t talk to one another,” he said.