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5 Posts authored by: tdewitte-esristaff Employee

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.  


PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are my own

and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.

Getting Started By Identifying Customers Impacted

By Tom Coolidge and Tom DeWitte


News of a gas outage can arrive from various sources.  It can come from a sensor indicating an abnormal condition.  Maybe it comes from a customer calling into customer service.  Or, a contractor calling operations after an excavation mishap.  Another possibility is a citizen calling in to report gas odor at a location.  Regardless of the source of the outage news, confirmation of an outage triggers one of a gas utility’s priority processes – restoring safe and reliable service to customers.


As important and critical a task as gas outage management is to a gas organization and to the community it supports, this process has changed little over the last 100 years.  For many gas organizations, it can take several hours to identify which customers have been impacted.  Once the customers are identified, getting the list of impacted customers to the field gas operations staff is still primarily a paper process. Someone literally must get into a vehicle and drive the list of customers to the location of the gas outage event.  As the field gas operations staff begins the gas relight process, they too still tend to use paper to document the status of each customer.  This means that management will always have a delayed understanding of the progress of restoring gas service.  When the mayor or governor calls asking for an update, gas executives are often get caught with little current information to pass on.


There has got to be a better way.


And, there is.  In fact, most of the gas industry already possesses the software to resolve these issues and significantly improve a gas organization’s response to a gas outage event.  The software I am referring to is the ArcGIS software currently widely used by gas organizations around the world.  This blog is the first in a series of three blogs explaining how the standard capabilities of the ArcGIS software can be deployed to address these common gas outage management challenges.  All functionality described in these blog articles are standard capabilities available today.  No customization or coding is needed. 


This first blog addresses the issue of identifying the customers impacted by a gas outage event.  This task often takes several hours when it needs to be accomplished in minutes. Additionally, the historical processes have had problems with accurately identifying the impacted customers and communicating precisely where those customer meters are located. 


The second blog will address the issue of communicating the list of impacted customers to the gas operations field staff.  The typical paper process takes too much time, causing delayed field operations and lower customer satisfaction. 

The third blog will address the gas relight process.  This process is also typically performed with paper.  The use of paper to track and communicate progress adds difficulty and inefficiency to this process.  The use of paper not only engrains a delay in relaying the update status to gas management and other interested parties, it also inputs a delay in relaying the status of individual meters between deployed field staff.


Identifying Impacted Customers

Current methods used by many gas organizations are lacking in accuracy and timeliness when identifying the customers impacted by a planned or unplanned gas outage.  One common method is to use the Customer Information System (CIS) for identifying impacted customers.  Since a CIS typically lacks an understanding of the connectivity of the pipe system, it is forced to rely on street address ranges.  The use of address ranges is inaccurate.  At every street intersection are four corner parcel lots.  Whether they are included in the address range is dependent on what street the house is listed under. This inaccuracy often requires a time-consuming manual process of having someone review the list, identify all crossing streets within the address ranges, determine the address ranges of those crossing streets, identify the corner lot addresses, then determine for each corner lot, whether it gets its gas from the impacted line, or from the gas line running down the cross street.  


Another common method is to use flow analysis systems to perform an isolation trace to identify the impacted customers.  This process is quicker, but it too is imprecise. The imprecision is due to the flow analysis software’s requirement to cluster groups of customers onto the gas pipe system at a singular location even though they each have individual service lines connecting to the gas main at discrete locations. In today’s gas pipe systems, the majority of gas mains are constructed of pinchable polyethylene plastic pipe. A gas event can be isolated or pinched at nearly any point along the plastic gas main.  The clustering of customer locations along the pipe system creates an inherent conflict between where gas operations places a clamp to pinch the pipe, and where the flow modeling engineer chose to aggregate the cluster of customers. This conflict creates an inaccuracy in the identification of impacted customers.


Accurately and quickly identifying impacted customers

The solution to addressing this problem is to use a system that understands the connectivity of the entire pipe system from its source, such as a town border station, to its end destination at the customer meter. ArcGIS provides the ability to maintain a connected representation of the entire pipe system, and the ability to perform a gas isolation trace to identify the meter or meter sets impacted by a gas outage. To perform this trace, you will require the following software:

  • ArcGIS 10.2.1 or higher, with a geometric network


  • ArcGIS Pro 2.3 or higher, ArcGIS Enterprise 10.7 or higher with a utility network


Additionally, your ArcGIS representation of the gas pipe system will need to model the following gas system assets:

  • mains
  • services
  • isolation valves
  • regulator stations (if regulator station valves are not individually mapped)
  • town border stations (if town border station valves are not individually mapped)
  • meters or meter sets


NOTE: If using meter sets you will need a link to a table identifying all meters contained within the meter set. This table is often an extraction of information from the Customer Information System


Your mains and services will at a minimum need to include the material of the pipe, so pinchable pipe can be differentiated from non-pinchable pipe.


The Gas Isolation Trace

The gas isolation trace is a more complex trace algorithm than simply identifying those pipes connected to the location of the pipe system failure, which are also between isolating valves.  With most gas pipe systems, the network is deliberately looped, to provide multiple sources of gas to any given location in the pipe system.  If this were true for every location on the pipe system, a simple connected trace defined to stop at barriers such as isolating valves or pinch points would be all that is needed.  But, there are portions of most gas systems where locations have only one source of gas.  Think of a gas pipe running along a dead-end street or a cul-de-sac.


If there is an isolating valve or pinch point at the location where the single feed pipe subsystem integrates with the larger looped pipe system, then the simple connected trace would ignore the customers on the downstream side of the barrier.  A more intelligent trace algorithm is required.  This more intelligent trace algorithm is generally referred to as the gas isolation trace.  A gas isolation trace is a multi-trace trace.  This means that the isolation trace runs a series of traces.  The first trace is the connected trace to identify the barriers (isolating valves and specified pinch locations).  Then a second round of traces is performed for each selected barrier.  This second round of traces is checking to verify that there is a source of gas feeding the barrier from the opposing side of the barrier.  This is to identify those dead-ends which do not have access to another source of gas.  Those customers downstream of the barrier on the dead-end need to be included in the list of customers impacted by the outage.


Gas Isolation Trace tools

The ArcGIS gas user community is fortunate in that there are multiple options for tools which can perform this industry specific type of trace.


One option is to download the free Gas utility editing tools provided by Esri. This ArcMap Add-In is available from the following Esri web site:

Another option is to leverage ArcMap Add-In tools from one of our business partners, such as Schneider Electric or Magnolia River.


For the ArcGIS Pro environment leveraging the utility network, this trace is a base capability as of the ArcGIS 10.7 release.


Identifying Impacted Customers

Operating the gas isolation trace tool is not complicated.  Simply identify the estimated location of the pipe system failure on the map.  In GIS speak this is called placing the flag to identify the start location of the trace.


When the isolation trace is run it will select all customers within the impacted area.  In my screen shot below you can see that this initial run selects over 100 impacted customers.


Identifying the location of pinch points

The prevalence of pinchable polyethylene plastic pipe enables the additional capability to reduce the number of impacted customers, by applying a gas clamp to pinch the pipe and stop the flow of gas to the location of the pipe system failure.  To represent this field capability in the GIS system, place a barrier at the location being considered for the pipe clamp.


With the proposed location(s) of the pipe clamp(s) now identified, the isolation trace is run a second time.  This time the resultant list of impacted customers has been reduced to less than 20.

The person running the analysis for both traces has so far only invested a few minutes of their time.  In that short time an accurate list of impacted customers has been created.


Defining the extent of the gas outage event

In today’s always connected, smartphone world, gas executives and managers expect to be able to access critical information that is easy to understand.  They generally do not need to see the list of individual customers impacted, often all they want to know is “where is the outage”, and “how many customers are impacted.”

By identifying the list of impacted customers with the ArcGIS tools, it is very easy to run an additional step to generate a polygon to define the boundary of the event.  In the GIS, a tool such as the Minimum Boundary Geometry geoprocessing tool will perform this task.

The creation of an event area feature provides a clear visual understanding of where this outage is occurring.  Having this singular feature representation also provides an intuitive means for managing event summary information, such as duration, and count of impacted customers.  The Esri-provided gas isolation tools automatically generate this polygon as part of the operation of the isolation trace.  In addition to the automatic generation of the polygon, a of every meter is generated and assigned an event ID to automatically relate the impacted customers to this specific event.

With the list of impacted customers defined and created, as well as the event bounding polygon, this information is ready to be electronically shared to gas operations field staff.


In the next blog, the 2nd blog of this blog series, the issue of delivering this list of impacted customers 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 the ArcGIS tools can provide a more accurate list of impacted customers than is available via legacy methods.  This list not only identifies who has been impacted, it also clearly and accurately identifies where those impacted customers are located.   


PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are my own

and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.


Gas Outage Response

Posted by tdewitte-esristaff Employee Mar 15, 2019

Similarities and Dissimilarities Among Electric and Gas Outages

By Tom Coolidge and Tom DeWitte


After a storm with strong winds and rain heavy enough to cause flooding, one neighbor away at the time may ask another still there if there are any outages in the neighborhood.  It’s understandable if the first response back is about whether the area’s electricity is still on or not.  That’s because outage is a term more commonly associated with electricity than natural gas, for good reason.  Electric outages are much more common.  A survey by the American Gas Association, reported by the Natural Gas Council, revealed in one recent year that Americans experienced 8.1 million power outages and fewer than 100,000 natural gas outages!


One obvious reason for that sizeable difference is that electric distribution networks predominantly are above ground, while gas pipe networks predominantly are underground, free from most hazards on and above the surface.  That difference makes it rare for an event to be severe enough to impact the ability of a natural gas distribution network to safely deliver gas to customers.  But events of a magnitude sufficient to cause many customer outages at one time do occur.  For instance, entire areas of a gas utility service territory can be affected by flooding from a hurricane or pipe breaks from an earthquake.  And, likewise, they can be affected by pipe dig-ins at a critical location during construction activities or failure of pipe metal due to corrosion or other cause.


Beyond temporary inconvenience, gas outages caused by pipe damage releasing natural gas may be dangerous.  The release of natural gas represents an imminent threat to people and property.  That makes resolving this threat as rapidly as possible critical.  A gas outage not only presents a threat to the safety of people and the preservation of property, it also presents a negative impact to the local economy.  Restaurants that rely on gas to heat their grills and ovens, cannot operate. Hotels are unable offer their rooms when they are unable to heat their rooms or provide hot water for bathing.  Manufacturers which rely on natural gas to run their operations must close and send their workers home.

There is another significant difference between electric and gas service.  Restoring gas service is more difficult than restoring electric service.  That is because electric distribution systems are designed to be shut down under abnormal conditions and natural gas pipe networks aren’t.  Restoring natural gas service following an event that causes many outages is a multi-step process involving multiple parties, many workers, and lots of time and effort.  For this blog, I will combine the many steps into three groups.  These groups are: identification of impacted customers, assignment and transmittal of impacted customers to field staff, restoring gas service to customers.


These three primary steps are the same steps followed back in the horse and buggy days when gas distribution systems were initially implemented.  Back then the best technology for enabling this process was paper.  Building a gas outage process on paper is problematic.  The process of identifying impacted customers is inaccurate and time consuming.  It takes some gas organizations hours to generate the list of customers impacted by a gas outage.  Having humans manually review lists of customer addresses to determine who is connected to the impacted portion of the pipe system is time consuming and inaccurate. No customer on a cold January day wants to be told that the gas utility is still reviewing customer lists to determine who is impacted.  Using paper in the field to track the relight process for restoring gas service is inefficient.  Field staff and office management are both blind to the progress of restoration until someone stops working and manually shares their information.  These problems are not new, they have been around since the first gas distribution pipe systems were constructed in the early 1800s.


Technology has changed dramatically since the early 1800s.  Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in the 1870s, greatly improving the speed of communication.  John Atanasoff, while teaching at Iowa State University in the 1930s, created the first electronic digital computer, setting the stage for advanced data storage and analytics.  Frank Canova of IBM created the first smartphone in the early 1990s.  Steve Jobs, of Apple, Inc, would later improve upon the idea of mobile communication and computing with the IPhone.  Jack Dangermond, the founder of Esri, Inc., created ArcGIS providing the means to leverage these major technology advances with geography.  Geography is core to understanding the connectivity of a pipe system and where along the pipe system impacted customers of a gas outage are located.  


With all these amazing advances in communication, digital computing, mobile computers, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS), why are some gas utilities still using a predominantly paper-based solution to gas outage?

There may well be multiple reasons for that, but those possible reasons no longer include the unavailability of GIS capable of supporting a totally computer-based approach to supporting the gas outage restoration process.

Today’s ArcGIS presents gas utilities with the opportunity to greatly improve on how they execute the gas outage restoration process.  Modern gas service restoration at its best is an enterprise-wide activity with workers in the field and office working together collaboratively in real-time on one source of the truth.


Next week we will release the first in a series of three blogs on modern gas service restoration.

This first blog addresses the issue of identifying the customers impacted by a gas outage event.  This task often takes several hours when it needs to be accomplished in minutes. Additionally, the historical processes have had problems with accurately identifying the impacted customers and communicating precisely where those customer meters are located. 


The second blog will address the issue of communicating the list of impacted customers to the gas operations field staff.  The typical paper process takes too much time, causing delayed field operations and lower customer satisfaction. 

The third blog will address the gas relight process.  This process is also typically performed with paper.  The use of paper to track and communicate progress adds difficulty and inefficiency to this process.  The use of paper not only engrains a delay in relaying the update status to gas management and other interested parties, it also inputs a delay in relaying the status of individual meters between deployed field staff.


These three blogs together will describe how the core capabilities of the ArcGIS platform, enables a gas utility to implement a modern gas service restoration process.  A process that is accurate, efficient and timely.  A process that will provide customer service reps, gas operations supervisors, and gas management with the real-time clarity on the progress of each customer thru the gas service restoration.


Dramatic enhancements in communication and computation have occurred since the first gas distribution systems were built in the early 1800’s. Industry pioneers such as Bell, Atanasoff, Canova, and Dangermond have given the world incredible enhancements.  Isn’t it time these enhancements were put to use?


PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are my own

and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.

Finding those key buried devices and paths


By Tom Coolidge and Tom DeWitte


A gas utility or pipeline typically transports natural gas or hazardous liquids to customers through a large and complex network of interconnected pipes.  In addition to pipe, these networks are comprised of an even larger number of other components, including fittings, valves, regulators and many more, some of which can affect the flow of the fluid through the pipes.  Modeled properly, ArcGIS enables you to create a “digital twin” of all this complexity.  This is key as many solutions require that you be able to determine a path directionally from a location in your connected network to a separator or separators that bound it.  The utility network provides this capability.


It all starts with location.  I find that as I get older, I am more frequently asking myself questions such as; where did I leave my glasses, or where is my phone.  Resolving these questions usually entails me wandering about the house until I find those misplaced glasses or phone.  Finding these items is not that difficult because I can see my glasses sitting on a table or I can see my phone as it sits on the kitchen counter where I left it.


Now imagine you work for a natural gas or hazardous liquids pipe organization, and all of the assets you are looking for are buried three or more feet below the surface.  How do you go about finding a specific valve, fitting or cathodic protection anode?  The short answer is maps.  But, maps like traditional paper maps have their limitations in that when looking for a specific valve you must have a pretty good idea of where the valve is located in order to know what map sheet to look at, and where on that busy map sheet to look.


Digital maps are better, in that they allow you to search for a characteristic of the valve such as its assetID, manufacturer, size or type.  But, a digital map also assumes you have some knowledge already about the valve you are looking for.

So, what do you do when your question is about the pipe network, and how a specific asset participates in the pipe network?  This is where tools which understand how the assets connect to form the pipe network are required.  This is where you need tracing tools to know your pipe system.


What type of questions can be answered with a trace?

When managing a pipe system there are many questions that get asked everyday which require an understanding of how the pipe system works.  During an emergency, a very common and important question is: what valves do I need to close to isolate a section of the pipe network where damage or a leak has occurred? A common question asked by cathodic protection technicians is where is the nearest CP test point from my current location on the pipe system? Gas engineers who are evaluating a pressure zone ask the question; what are the regulator stations providing gas to this location?


What do I need to do to configure my gas system for tracing?

For a software system to be able to answer these common types of pipe system questions, an understanding of how the components of a pipe system connect is required.  It is not enough to simply draw a digital representation of the asset on a map, such as is commonly done with CAD software. In addition to drawing the digital representation of the asset on a map, there also needs to be an understanding that the two polyethylene pipe segments which have been butt fusioned together are connected.


This software understanding of connectivity is network topology.  Within the Esri ArcGIS platform, our latest version of network topology for utility systems is what we call the utility network.


Can I perform a trace in ArcGIS Pro?

Yes. Tracing your network can be performed within ArcGIS Pro version 2.1 or later.  Additionally, with the utility network being a service based solution, tracing can also be done with web applications, and eventually will be able to be performed by mobile applications.


Within ArcGIS Pro, the options for configuring a trace have been significantly enhanced when compared to the ArcMap geometric network tools.  It is now possible to dynamically answer questions by simple configuration of the properties of the trace tool.  For example, if you are trying to determine the amount of gas or liquid lost due to a break in the pipe, you need to know the volume of the portion of the pipe network which was isolated.  There is now a function property to the trace tool to allow you to summarize the total pipe volume of the trace selected pipe segments.



If you need to ask the question, what portion of my pipe system is upstream of a specified location, but only trace on those assets which are in production, and are open to allow the gas or liquid to pass through.  The ArcGIS Pro trace tool now supports the ability to use designated asset attributes such as LifeCycleStatus, DeviceStatus, Pincheable, and Insulator Device to dynamically constrain which assets the trace can traverse. This, too, is a simple configuration of the tools parameters.

Since the trace tool is a geoprocessing tool, your preferred configuration properties can be saved as a model and shared across the organization.


How do I configure a trace to find the nearest asset?

Being able to find the nearest type of asset such as a regulator, valve, or CP test point, is another useful new addition to the capability of the trace tool.


Simply checking a box within the filter options will constrain the trace output to the specified features which are closest based on the distance traversed across the pipe network.


How do I configure the trace tool to find the sources feeding a gas subsystem?

The new trace tool within ArcGIS Pro contains some new trace options, such as subnetwork, subnetwork controller, shortest path, and loops.  When a planner or engineer needs to find the regulators feeding a specified location, the subnetwork controller option makes this an easy question to ask of the pipe network.


Tracing with the new utility network solution provided by Esri, is unique in its ability to allow gas and hazardous liquids pipe companies to easily ask questions of their pipe networks.  Databases alone cannot answer these questions.  CAD systems cannot answer these questions. Even GIS systems which do not include network topology cannot answer these questions.  Only a complete GIS system which includes network topology can answer these everyday questions about your pipe network. Only a network topology specifically built for management of utility systems such as a gas or hazardous liquids pipe network can provide the intelligent tools to help you know your system.


PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are my own

and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.

Gas Network Complex Facilities Can Be More Fully Defined in the Utility Network

By Tom Coolidge and Tom DeWitte


What if it is really greater goodness that is to be found in having the details of your complex gas network components consolidated in one system of record along with other network data?  Think about the improvements to efficiency and productivity that can result when you have all needed data organized in one place and included in your network models.  Yes, it’s your angel that we believe lies ahead in the consolidated details.  That angel can help you more fully realize the benefits available to you by unlocking the potential of the ArcGIS platform.

Bringing data from disparate sources together on a common geographic basis for visualization and analysis is one of the hallmarks of the Web GIS pattern exemplified by the capabilities of the ArcGIS platform.  Increasingly, though, while this advance means that they do not have to, many gas utilities are looking to move a broader range of data now stored elsewhere into today’s modern ArcGIS platform.

Historically, data has been siloed in different systems for many reasons.  In the case of detailed data needed to define complex gas components, one of those is that GIS did not provide the functionality needed to define and store that detailed data.  That is changing now.  This has many benefits for gas utilities.  Among those are making it easier to see a holistic view of the network in whatever level of detail is desired and to analyze it, and facilitating interoperation with other application software that rely upon a published definition of the detailed network.  At the same time, it reduces the total cost of ownership by consolidating into one system of record what previously was in multiple systems.  In a sense, this advance brings GIS closer to operating just as you operate.

That brings us to the Utility Network.  One of the Utility Network capabilities getting the most buzz is the capability to more fully define and manage, in real geographic space, the design and operational details of complex gas components, such as regulator stations and compressor stations. The Utility Network opens up new capabilities in leveraging these details to better understand and operate your gas system.

Rest Easy

Before we explore this new capability, let us quickly emphasize that the capability to more fully define complex components does not mean that you ever must!  So, rest easy.  The choice is yours as to whether you elect to take advantage of the new capability and, if you do, when and to what extent.  Moreover, if you do elect to add more detail, you can do it incrementally if you wish, rather than in one big project.

Before Now

Before the release of the Utility Network, complex gas components typically were represented in ArcGIS as a point feature.  Historically, CAD software often has been used to create precision drawings of gas network complex components.  With CAD, what you see is basically what you get – just a picture, not usable data.  ArcGIS delivers much more.  You still can see the same thing, but what you see is just a representation of the data behind it which you can use in many powerful ways. Now instead of looking at a picture of the internals of a gas facilities you can interact and ask questions of the gas facility details.  What kind of questions might you be asking of the details?  In an emergency operation instead of an isolation trace stopping at the simple representation of a gas facility such as a regulator station, it can now identify the specific critical valves within the facility which need to be closed.  If a recall is issued for a specific manufacturer device or fitting, and that device or fitting was installed within a gas facility, those gas facility components can now be identified and reported.  Answering these types of questions is not possible when the gas facility internals are just a picture.

How Much Detail

We increasingly are asked how detailed should the definition in ArcGIS be of a gas network?

There is no one answer to that question.  With the ArcGIS platform increasingly supporting the mapping and spatial analytics needs of a growing number of users in a broader range of gas utility functional areas and roles, the answer to that question is evolving.

Here is one way to look at it.  The answer to what needs to go into your geodatabase largely depends on what you want to get out of it.  That is because each software application has its own specific data requirements.  If you want your geodatabase to support one application, then only that application’s data requirements need to be accommodated.  If you want your geodatabase to support two applications, then the data requirements of both need to be accommodated.  And, so on.  While some applications share data requirements, generally as the number of applications to be supported increases, so, too, does the breadth and depth of data requirements.  The key to your answer lies in understanding the number of applications to be supported and their combined data requirements.

Remember the title of this blog, “Your Angel Is In The Details?”  As a rule, erring on the side of more detail is a good thing.  It is easier to simplify a more detailed definition than it is to add detail to less detailed one.

An Example

One of the functional areas now more fully exploiting ArcGIS capabilities is gas operations.

Analytics for gas operations often require more granular data than analytics for other functional areas.

Let’s consider regulator stations.  Gas networks typically include multiple sub-networks, each operating at up to a different maximum pressure, with pipe sizes and maximum pressures reducing the closer gas gets to delivery points.  Regulators control the safe reduction of pressure or flow from a higher pressure sub-network to a lower one.  A regulator station can be simple, with a single regulator on a single path.  Or it can very complex, with multiple regulators and other devices on multiple paths.  It also likely contains safety devices.  These safety devices may include additional regulators, relief valves, and remote monitoring equipment.

In ArcGIS, a regulator station traditionally has been defined as a point feature.  In reality, a regulator station is a complex facility.  Now, in the Utility Network you can define those design and operational details.


Technical Discussion

                Since gas systems were originally mapped in a GIS several decades ago, GIS professionals have struggled to get the balance right between needed detail and desired cartography.  One example of this struggle is the need to manage geographically condensed features like those contained within a gas facility. These details can create very cluttered and hard-to-understand map displays.

As already stated, these details need to be more than just a picture.  They need to be asset records.  These asset records need to be spatially reportable so gas companies know where gas devices and fittings are located.  Then, add to these gas facility data management requirements the gas operations requirement that these gas facility details be traceable.  This is to aid gas ops staff during emergency operations to not only know that a valve in a gas facility needs to be closed, but to identify which critical valve(s) in the gas facility need to be closed.  The solution to these problems is the new Utility Network and its container capability.

         So what is a container

A container is an association between the individual features representing the assets internal to a gas facility with the single point feature representation of the gas facility.

Once the container association has been established, the contained assets are hidden from the standard map display.  Similar to the legacy picture representation, users are able to click on the simple gas facility representation and see the internals of the gas facility in a separate map window. 


          What reporting can I do

                The assets contained within a container are geospatial features stored in geodatabase featureclasses.  Standard database reporting tools, whether ArcGIS-based or Business Intelligence-based can be used to query, summarize and report these on features.  But, what about spatially querying these featureclasses with a standard ArcGIS tool like “Select Features by Location”? This is an additional type of supported reporting, because the Utility Network provides the ability to precisely place the internal assets at their true geographic location within the gas facility.  This is a key point, so let me repeat.  Internal assets are placed at their true geographic location!

         Can I trace these gas facility assets

With the Utility Network, all container contained assets participate in the overall pipe system’s network topology.  This means, for instance, that during a gas emergency operation, an isolation trace task can be performed to identify the critical valves within the gas facility which need to be closed for the emergency.  This improvement in modeling complex gas facilities additionally provides a better understanding of cathodic protection areas, pressure zones, and system zones.

                The Utility Network Management extension container capabilities provides a solution to the gas industries growing needs for better management of the details of gas facilities.  This ability to manage gas facility internal assets as features instead of pictures, allows gas organizations to provide clear and concise maps, without sacrificing the ability to model individual assets. Containers provide the angel that gas organizations have been looking for to solve the problem of managing a gas facilities details.



PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are my own

and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.