The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season has officially begun. From June 1 to Nov. 30, NOAA predicts a range of 9 to 15 storms to occur. With hurricane season upon us, disaster preparedness and mitigation is crucial to ensure the safety and well-being of citizens. Now, more than ever, smart, connected and resilient communities need to be built that can quickly recover after natural disasters, reduce the impacts and risks of hazards by forecasting issues before they occur, and restore power to communities much faster or avoid outages altogether while keeping citizens informed.

The devastation caused by natural disasters has a serious impact on critical infrastructure. Recent advances in technology, such as Industrial IoT (IIoT) applications, are helping communities better prepare and respond to natural disasters, while increasing reliability and safety during disasters. Itron has worked with utilities and municipalities to improve preparation through the implementation of smart grid technology to prevent thousands of service interruptions, sense when the power is out at each endpoint, trace back to where the outage has occurred, better target crews for more effective dispatch and understand when customers regain power once restoration work has begun. IIoT applications are making it possible to predict, prepare, respond and recover from natural disasters.

Predict and Prepare
Smart communities are leveraging IIoT applications to help mitigate risks before a natural disaster occurs. IIoT applications that enable grid awareness are helping utilities better understand the state of their electrical distribution systems—they can spot issues and fix them before they create unsafe conditions. For example, a pole tilt sensor can detect if a pole is down. Knowing what poles are down and where is helpful with speeding restoration efforts and can increase response times to those that need attention. Similarly, line sensors that monitor for hazardous situations on the distribution line can help spot issues before they create unsafe conditions. Monitoring solutions, such as voltage analysis and distribution transformer monitoring, can evaluate the health of devices on the grid to ensure they aren’t failing, which could create a potential safety issue.

Advanced sensors in the network enable utilities to anticipate where problems will occur by creating awareness of intermittent interference from vegetation, equipment not functioning properly, loose connections or heat buildup in the system. The utility or city is able to de-energize systems and dispatch crews more effectively when able to anticipate or detect where fires might occur and where damage is detected in the system.

Utilities are also leveraging IIoT applications to respond more quickly and effectively to the impacts of a disaster, including outages. Real-time intelligence in outage detection technology helps improve response times. As a result, utilities are able to accurately understand the size, location and extent of an outage, which aids in restoration by validating and continuously updating outage extents.

In addition to using smart meters to know instantly when the power is out from the meter’s built-in intelligence, utilities can also use gas shutoff devices. When coupled with sensors, the devices stop the flow of gas in a hurricane and other high-risk situations such as an earthquake or flood.

IIoT applications facilitate recovery from outages caused by natural disasters. For example, in Houston, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in August 2017, more than 250,000 people in Texas lost power. Using smart grid technology, Itron customer CenterPoint Energy was able to recover and reconnect people to power quickly, avoiding an estimated 45 million outage minutes for its customers. Distribution automation devices, such as intelligent grid switches, allowed the utility to quickly isolate problems on their grid and restore service to customers.

When Hurricane Irma hit Florida just weeks after Hurricane Harvey devasted Texas, Florida Power & Light was able to restore service to 1 million customers before the storm even exited its system, and 2 million customers after one day. Smart grid technology also enabled the utility to avoid more than half a million outages during the storm.

As challenges intensify, resiliency must be at the heart of the intelligent devices, applications and networks that are required today and that our future calls for. With every season, communities and utilities gain key learnings on how to do better or what to avoid. As the 2019 hurricane season is underway, it’s critical that the utility industry and communities embrace a range of IIoT applications that can help them be more resilient to better prepare, mitigate and recover from natural disasters.

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The Itron Team