Outage Data and Emergency Management
When the lights go out, customers of many utilities can find information about an outage in their area using an app provided by their utility company. These apps typically provide status on known outages and give the user the ability to report an outage and the option to receive future alerts. This provides value to the customers and helps reduce the call volume to the utilities. But what about management agencies at the city, county, state and federal level who need to know about outages across multiple utilities? These agencies need situational awareness capabilities that synthesize information from multiple sources including information about outages, location and status of first responders, weather and other environmental information, emergency shelter availability, and more.
Addressing this need is not easy. Some agencies, such as the Department of Energy (DOE) through their Eagle-I program, have used “screen scraping” technology to retrieve information from multiple utility web-based outage maps. Solutions such as these are difficult to develop and difficult to maintain as the various utilities make changes to their outage maps. The timeliness of the information as well as the content also varies from utility to utility.
To avoid screen scraping or other cumbersome techniques would require outage information to be published by utilities from their outage management systems and made available to external stakeholders. Initially this might be implemented as a point-to-point solution. This solution is more applicable to the utility for customer communication or to other stakeholders that do not require a detailed level of information. This would provide improved communication between the utility and their customers from both a timeliness and content (e.g., estimated restoration time) aspect.
Another concept that has been proposed, which is of relevance to the emergency management use case, is that of an information exchange or InfoXchange as depicted in Figure 1. In the point-to-multipoint scenario depicted, utilities would publish information about outages in near real time that would then be accessible through the exchange by both emergency management and government entities, the public, news agencies, etc. The distinction would be in the granularity of the data provided. Governmental agencies, with appropriate security authorization, would receive more detailed information possibly at a greater frequency. Using the exchange, the agencies would be able to readily synthesize the outage information along with other information into applications with which they are familiar.
While the implementation of the underlying infrastructure to support the publishing and exchange of information is important, of greater importance is the development and use of messages based on an open standard.
The need for standards-based messages on outages was recognized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). In 2014, they requested that the three California investor-owned utilities (Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric) collaborate on the development of the standard. After an initial round of meetings, other utilities and solution providers were included. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) was chosen as the standards body and the IEC 61968 of their Common Information Model (CIM) as the standard. The IEC CIM is widely used by utilities and solution providers. The IEC 61968 standard already included outage information in the semantic model, so only extensions were required rather than significant additions.
Coincident with the OSTP request, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) had also recognized the need for standards-based outage messages through a series of workshops conducted on the use of social media for outage communications. Recognizing the synergy of the efforts, EPRI took a lead role in what is now called the Outage Data Initiative (ODI). In 2015, a draft version of the use of the standard was demonstrated at DistribuTECH by several vendors and utilities using historical outage information. This led to further enhancements to the standard, and a subsequent demonstration involving ten solution providers and seven utilities was conducted at the 2016 DistribuTECH conference. EPRI has also led efforts to implement the use of the standard at Seattle City Light (http://www.tdworld.com/distribution/seattle-city-light-shares-outage-data-initiative) and at utilities in the northeast United States.
Having 27 countries already provided a preliminary review of the standardized outage messages, EPRI will be coordinating the conformance and interoperability tests to validate the Outage Data Initiative messages, which can then receive IEC approval to become an international standard. The following activities will be included:
- Providing subject matter expertise to utility vendor(s) with implementing ODI CIM messaging and exchange standards, initially focusing on the point-to-point solution.
- Providing subject matter expertise to external stakeholder(s) with implementing ODI CIM messaging and exchange standards
- Standard conformance evaluation for solution providers and stakeholders using EPRI’s CIM test harness.
- Development and documentation of test cases, test scripts and test results from the conformance testing.
- Host an interoperability workshop with multiple vendor implementations demonstrating conformance to the standard
- Evaluation of the effectiveness of the standard during an event or a simulated event.
- Documentation of the outage data use cases, goals, results, and lessons learned.
By participating in this project, utilities and vendors will gain implementation guidance and training to use the messaging and architecture definitions.
While the focus of ODI has been on external stakeholders, benefits will also accrue to the utilities who implement the standard. Figure 2 depicts the various uses of outage data and where benefits may be found.
A primary benefit is to reduce the volume of verbal communications to the external stakeholders depicted while ensuring that the electronic sharing of information is timely, accurate, and consistent. The messages could also be used for internal communications, incorporating them into other applications and sending alerts and updates without requiring people to directly use the outage management system (OMS). These situations become further complicated for utilities who are using multiple OMS systems obtained through past acquisitions and mergers. A more detailed look at each of these uses of outage data will be the subject of future posts.
For information on how you can participate in ODI, contact Scott Sternfeld at EPRI (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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