Communicating identified customers to Field Gas Operations
By Tom Coolidge and Tom DeWitte
There’s no authoritative record of the date of the first sizable gas outage in the United States, but a candidate for that distinction is June 14, 1837. If the Gas Light Company of Baltimore had a control room then, the first alarm likely would have sounded shortly after 9 p.m. The Baltimore Sun reports it was around then that a second powerful thunderstorm dumped an enormous amount of rain in a short period, leaving the Jones’ Falls stream “incapable of retaining its boundaries.” The resulting flooding caused loss of life, loss of houses, and vast destruction of other property– including partial inundation of the Gas House sufficient to prevent the manufacture of gas for days. Restoring service was a formidable challenge.
When this first outage occurred how do you think the staff of the Gas Light Company of Baltimore determined which customers were impacted by the outage. Did they simply test each gas lamp to see it lit or not? Once they figured out the extent of the outage in the field, how was that information shared back to the office? Most likely someone got on horseback or climbed into a horse-drawn buggy and rode the information from the field to the office. If the office had additional feedback for the field on how to isolate the outage and restore service, that information would have also been delivered back to the location of the outage on horseback. How much longer was the duration of the outage extended while the gas utility staff waited for the information to be delivered?
Innovation and communication
The speed of communication has always been a limitation on the speed with which gas outages can be resolved. For over 100 years from the creation of that first pipe system in Baltimore, the speed of information was limited to the speed a person could be transported from one place to another. Innovation in the second half of the 19th century enabled small amounts of information to be transmitted between staff in the office and the field by telegraph and the telephone. Further enhancements in the early 21st century have enabled large amounts of information to be transmitted between the office and the field staff. These technologies broke the limitation of the speed of information being constrained by the speed of humans.
A Better Way
Today’s telecommunication system provides the capability to communicate large amounts of information, such as a list of impacted customer meters, between the office and the field in near real time. The ArcGIS software leverages today’s telecommunication system to transmit that list of impacted customer meters. The key to a successful gas outage solution based on ArcGIS is in knowing how. In this blog, we will answer the question of how to get the list of impacted customer meters from the office, and to the assigned field staff.
In the first blog of this series, we described how the ArcGIS desktop software can be used to perform a gas isolation trace which will identify the customer meters impacted, the isolating devices or pinch locations and the extent of the outage. In this blog, we will address the next major step which is to get this large amount of information from the office to the correctly assigned gas field staff.
Prepping Data for the Field
The first step in accomplishing this is to use a geoprocessing model to upload the selected data and append it to existing feature layers. These feature layers can be hosted in ArcGIS Online, or they can be hosted on an ArcGIS Enterprise Portal.
In addition to appending the customer meters impacted, the isolating devices, pinch locations, and the extent area, a geoprocessing model provides the opportunity to prepare the data for field use. Here is a list of commonly added attributes and their purpose:
- TRACEID to customer meters point features, pinch location point features, isolating valves point features, and extent area polygons. This will allow all data associated with the outage event to have a common ID.
- RELIGHTSTATUS to the customer meters point features. This will allow gas field staff to track each meter/customer point feature through their gas light cycle (unassigned, assigned, out, off, relit, no entry,). Default value is “unassigned”.
- TIMEOUT to the customer meters point features. This will allow gas field staff to document the date and time when the meter lost service.
- TIMEOFF to the customer meters point features. This will allow gas field staff to document the date and time when the meter was turned off.
- TIMERELIT to the customer meters point features. This will allow gas field staff to document the date and time when the meter was turned back on.
- NUMBEROFPASSES to the customer meters point features. This will allow gas field staff to document the number of attempts to gain access to the premise to relight the gas appliances.
- OUTAGETYPE to the outage event area polygon features. This will allow office staff to identify the type of event which caused the gas outage.
The geoprocessing model when run will take impacted customer meters and upload them to the feature layers. A minute or two after the model has finished running, the data is available for gas operations staff. No more waiting for the horse-drawn buggy to arrive with the information.
Assigning Impacted Meters/Customers
The last step is to assign the impacted customer meters to individual gas operations field staff. To perform this step, we will use Workforce for ArcGIS. Workforce is comprised of two applications; a dispatcher web application and a smart device mobile application. The Worforce web application provides the ability to view the newly uploaded list of impacted customer meters. Because the individual records can be viewed on a map, it is very easy to use geography to assign them to field staff. For example, in the screen shot below the customer meters on the west side of the street can easily be selected and assigned to a single gas field technician. This will improve the efficiency of the gas relight process by clustering the assigned meters.
When the Workforce Dispatcher web application assigns impacted customer meters, the field staff are immediately notified. The mobile app will show the gas field technicians their assigned customer meters. No more waiting for information.
In the third and final blog of this blog series, the issue of working the gas relight process will be addressed.
ArcGIS today is deployed worldwide at many gas organizations, providing the ability to replace and improve upon non-spatial legacy processes. Identifying impacted customers, whether they are connected by steel pipe or pinchable plastic pipe, can be accomplished in just a few minutes. Using ArcGIS tools enables information to be prepared, transmitted, assigned, and viewed by field staff in a matter of minutes. No more waiting for the horse-drawn carriage, telegraph message, or telephone message to arrive with the information.