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Hurricane Season 2021: The Tale So Far

By Blog

The 2021 Hurricane Season has been a dynamic one, but has it matched up to forecaster’s predictions as being one the most active seasons in history? Do we need to worry about dodging bullets or putting contractors, utility service providers, and mutual assistance partners on stand-by? Let us review the season so far and put the storms into perspective. 

Tropical Storm Ana 

Technically, this year’s hurricane season started a week early. On May 19th, radar and satellite imagery discovered the first 2021 tropical storm tracked by the National Hurricane Center. It formed near Bermuda and by May 22, developed into a named storm called “Ana”. However just 24 hours later, Ana weakened while at sea and was downgraded. Ana made 2021 the seventh year in a row that a named stormed has formed before the start of the season. 

Tropical Storm Bill 

The National Hurricane Center started tracking a new tropical storm off the North Carolina coast on June 13th. It was named “Bill” a day later and brutalized the northeast Atlantic coastline with 45 mph winds before moving out to sea. In more than 70 years, Ana and Bill mark only the eighth time that two named storms have developed this early in a season.  

Tropical Storm Claudette 

On June 11th, the Gulf of Mexico was being watched by the NHC and sure enough, they saw Tropical Storm Claudette mass into her final form on June 19th. When she made landfall, Claudette aimed for New Orleans and then traveled northeast. As she traveled through the south, the torrential downpours and winds caused massive damage in Alabama. Claudette eventually lost her energy but started to refuel as she crossed over North Carolina before quietly dissipating. The damage she caused is estimated to be at $100 million.  

Tropical Storm Danny 

Savannah, Georgia was the next locale for a storm to form. The NHC started watching a tropical depression on June 27th, and 24 hours later, they found it had increased enough to be named Tropical Storm Danny. Danny blew into Hilton Head, South Carolina with 40 mph winds. Danny weakened quickly and was gone after another 24 hours.  

Hurricane Elsa 

Hurricane Elsa has been the biggest storm of the season so far. The NHC started tracking her on June 30th. As she gathered strength, Elsa became a named storm on July 2nd. She moved between Haiti and Jamaica a day later, then on to Cuba, the Florida Keys and Tampa Bay. Elsa was particularly pesky because she kept losing and regaining power, which fueled flooding in the Mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States. Elsa lost strength over New England after delivering around $290 million in estimated damages.  

Loading the Deck in Our Favor 

So far, this year’s Hurricane Season has seen an uptick in named storms but thanks to early forecasting, a group of experienced utilities, crews, and software automation, responding, restoring, and reporting has not been an issue. Solutions like ARCOS CalloutCrew ManagerDamage Assessment and Mobile Workbench have made sure that work is identified quickly by crews (internal, contractor, and USP), they are safely dispatched to where they need to be and work tickets are completed so they can move on to the next clean-up or restoration job. Contact ARCOS to learn more about this process and how the Resource Management Platform can also help with FEMA reimbursement 

Hurricane Season is with us until November 30th. Let’s hope the worst is already behind us. With four months to go, we’re proud to stand with utility crews who must be ready for anything.  

Pandemic Best Practices – What was Learned, Implemented, and Still Evolving

By Blog

What was normal is not so normal anymore. 2020 brought a slew of business challenges and changes that have become a healthy list of responding, restoring, and reporting best practices – even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. Utilities and critical infrastructure industries have stepped up and made the most of a trying time and found cost savings in the process. 

Safety is not negotiable 

The ability for employees and customers to be safe is and will forever be the best practice. Providing employees with proper PPE, hand sanitizer and making sure adequate protocols were in place in the case of crews entering a home or business built up and maintained consumer confidence and reinforced that employee safety really is the number one priority. Masks and social distancing went a long way.  

Also, listening to employees and providing better lanes of open communication with supervisors helped uneasy teammates eventually become more comfortable and productive. Once safety regulations and rules were explained thoroughly and became routine, crews shared their own ideas that turned out to be the most creative solutions to further COVID-19 safety protocols. Allowing crews time for understanding and the sharing of their own personal beliefs and viewpoints continues to be a best practice that is not going anywhere anytime soon.  

Bringing it Home 

One employee suggestion that had traction and was later adopted by many utilities was allowing first responders to take their vehicles home. Employees took pride in having the vehicles and bucket trucks parked in their very own driveways, and it unintentionally provided a way for energy providers to be more visible in the community. Wrench time was also amplified as those entrusted with fleet vehicles could drive directly to the job site from their front door.  

For those without vehicles to bring home, the best practice became to stage trucks in yards and letting employees drive right up to their work vehicles. The savings mounted quickly as the wrench time produced by this one item alone increased the daily work that was being accomplished. There was no lingering at the coffee pot as crews would get in and head right out to a job site. Utilities found that daily shift briefings were delaying exit times and that once you got out of your employees’ way and let them work, productivity margins were enhanced and exceeded. 

Remote working is another best practice. As noted above with work vehicles, when operation teams were allowed to work from home, the amount of increased productivity was notable. Brick and mortar operating centers are not always needed in the new normal and we rely on more tech to get the job done. 

In the cloud 

Many new opportunities during 2020 were identified that will change business for the better, such as using the processing power of the cloud to deal with fluctuating resource demand needs. The integration of SAAS platforms like the ARCOS Resource Management Platform into the daily resource routine has become an operating standard. ARCOS Crew Manager is an essential solution that was rapidly adopted to keep employees safe while continuing to get work completed. It was configured in new, unique ways. By using dashboards suggested by operation teams, it can display the availability of crews no matter if it is blue or grey sky making activation and notification a breeze across the company. Whether on a job site or virtual, it has become part of the resource transition solution that keeps crews aligned with work rules and business contracts. ARCOS’s Mobile capabilities are being used as a best practice to keep work pods and employee separation in place while still filling and completing work tickets.  

What’s Evolving 

The pandemic forced us to think out of the box in the way we conduct business. It made leaders get more comfortable with the virtual world. It’s shown that some positions can flourish by working from home. It’s reduced travel time. Now you don’t have to travel 5 hours for a 2-hour meeting in the territory you cover. You can sign on virtually and gain your travel time back while saving on gas and mileage.  

The pandemic has also helped culturize ICS and emergency planning – and made it top of mind. There has always been a question of if emergency management is needed in whatever is being done – from daily briefings to how a district may need coverage after an event. Utilities are seeing a strengthened bond of cross departmental coordination that is now approaching this dilemma as a single emergency and ICS management team.  

As work is being assigned electronically, job folders are becoming a thing of the past too. Working remotely is giving utilities the ability for an employee to immediately jump on a problem. You no longer must wait to come into the office before problems are remedied.  

All the above are best practices that are evolving and being defined by the pandemic lessons provided by 2020. The pandemic may have surprised the industry, but as always, we met it with thought, tenacity and ingenuity that will continue to provide even more best practices as we move through 2021 and beyond. Let ARCOS help 

FEMA Funding Before or After an Emergency

By Blog

As with anything in business, there are risks to your operation that can be mitigated before they disastrously impact your organization. Many times, however – the question is how? How do I prepare for emergent events so they do not disrupt my daily operations to a major degree and what tools can I use to prepare? The United States endured 22 separate weather and climate related disasters that EACH caused over $1 billion in damages, and if you take the total of all events the damage soars to nearly $100 billion dollars according to this White House Fact Sheet. 

FEMA Funding Before an Emergent Event 

The good news is, there are resources available to critical infrastructure companies to help them prepare for major weather events. This is especially important as we near one of the most tumultuous parts of the year when it comes to disasters. Not only do we have hurricane season in the Southern and Eastern parts of America, but there is also the impending wildfire season in the Western region of the country. 

There is hope if your critical infrastructure company is wondering how it can fund resources to help prepare for these events. President Biden, in a recent address from the FEMA headquarters, has enacted legislation to increase funds available to private and public sector companies from $500 million last year to a total of $1 billion in 2021. The funds that are now available are through FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. 

FEMA Funding After an Emergent Event 

Most emergencies are handled at the local level, without assistance from the state or federal government. However, major disasters or emergencies that disrupt the normal functioning of critical infrastructure companies and communities are eligible for monetary assistance through FEMA. There is a wide range of categories that qualify for FEMA reimbursement, including: 

  • Debris removal for Utility and Public Works Companies 
  • Restoration and Reconstruction of Critical Infrastructure companies 
  • Funds for Critical Infrastructure Companies to mitigate future disasters 

How Can We Help? 

ARCOS has positioned itself as an industry leader to help critical infrastructure and utility organizations with disaster planning, mitigation and management. With ARCOS Incident Manager, you can develop an in-depth, agile restoration plan that keeps you informed of your available resources and personnel. Also, ARCOS doesn’t just focus on before the storm. With other available resources like ARCOS Callout and ARCOS Crew Manager, we can help ensure your response to an emergent event is organized and executed properly and quickly. With storm season on the horizon, get in touch with us soon to see how ARCOS can help your organization. 

How Automation Can Increase your Gas-Leak Response Rate

By Blog

For over 14 years, Central Hudson Gas & Electric has been at the top of their game when it comes to efficiency and response time. By using an automated callout system, the utility has responded on average to 99.8% of gas leak calls in 60 minutes or less since 2007. But if we were to visit Central Hudson Gas & Electric before 2005, it would have been a different story. 

The After-Hours Callout of Yesteryear 

In the early 2000s, Central Hudson dispatchers were manually handling emergency callout via a paper-based process: AKA, calling available employees one call at a time.  Dispatchers had to figure out who to call based on who was eligible for the job, what kind of workers they needed, and who was on vacation. As you can imagine, after-hours callout was a time-consuming and tedious process that took dispatchers’ attention away from focusing on many other critical tasks surrounding emergency management. 

When it comes to gas emergencies, time is of the essence. And with safety being your top priority, manual processes around emergency callouts (like phone calls, spreadsheets, or even whiteboards) can slow down your efforts to make it to the trouble as quickly as possible.

Welcome to 2021 and Beyond 

With the technology, innovation, and the ARCOS Resource Management platform at your fingertips, these struggles are far in the rearview mirror.  Once a pen and paper operation, Central Hudson now uses ARCOS Callout and Crew Manager for both daily operations and emergency events, leading to faster response times, and an increased focus on other essential aspects of emergency management.   

Are you currently using paper and spreadsheets to manage your after-hours callout and crews? What processes are holding you back? ARCOS offers a fully automated Resource Management platform to bring you into the world of automation, whether it is getting the right people to the job on time, managing crews, responding to and managing emergencies, and much more.  Check out our new Central Hudson Gas & Electric case study to learn more about their success with the ARCOS Resource Management Platform. 

Increasing Severity: Emergency and Incident Management Before, During and After Weather Events

By Blog

2020 was a historic year. While thoughts immediately turn to COVID-19, more danger was in the air than any facemask or PPE could possibly contain.  

2020 is notable for being the most active hurricane season on record. 30 total named storms rattled the Atlantic basin, including three that blew in before the official start of the season on June 1st. And unfortunately, data is alerting forecasters and weather experts that this trend is not ending anytime soon. Attributable to rising sea temperatures, the number of named storms and category 3 hurricanes or stronger have steadily grown year to year over the last three decades. Shattering the previous record of 28 named storms during 2005’s active season, there is real concern about emergency and incident management preparedness in this future of increasing weather events. 

With the amount of these events compounding and the over-development of coastlines, utilities have done a great job keeping up with restoration efforts, but there are still three emergency and incident management efforts that the industry is looking to master: 

  1. Calling up of ICS or other emergency management protocols
  2. Assigning and accounting for crews, contractors, and mutual assistance providers
  3. Post-event reporting for storm-cost recovery and FEMA reimbursement
     

Thankfully, there are software solutions for all three. 

Clickable ICS at your fingertips 

ARCOS Incident Manager was created as an answer to the industry’s request to speed up and better manage Incident Command Structures and emergency management hierarchies. Thoroughly tested by leading utilities since its inception, Incident Manager eliminates spreadsheets and binders as it effectively brings efficiency and organization for a quick and simple roll-out of any emergency management protocol. It saves valuable time as events escalate and is scalable as storms intensify or wane. 

Full Situational Awareness 

Working with utilities, ARCOS also developed Crew ManagersMART and Resource Assist. Crew Manager helps utilities to quickly identify which crews, vehicles and equipment are available for work and wherewhile assigning and tracking the resources. Resource Assist allows utilities to call on outside contractors and utility service providers quickly by utilizing ARCOS’s own contractor management matrix that standardizes rosters and removes confusing language, so bottlenecks don’t occur. sMART can then be used to expedite restoration efforts by providing mobile crew location data and logistics for the external crews tapped to help with mutual assistance. 

Fast Forward and Go Back to Any Point in History 

The best part of an integrated incident and emergency management system like ARCOS is the ability to travel back to any point in time. The ARCOS Resource Management platform provides one source of truth that is essential for reporting and future emergency planning. By date or using ARCOS’s event wrapper, reports can be generated for any stakeholders internal or external. Reimbursements from FEMA can be collected and dispensed quickly and any contractor data can be reviewed with an assurance that the reports are showing exactly what happened, by whom, when and where. The ARCOS Resource Management platform eliminates disputes while providing a faster way to recoup storm restoration costs. 

Disruptive weather events may continue to escalate but the way to manage and properly prepare for them is very clear. Find out more about the ARCOS Resource Management platform and how it can provide efficient opportunities for emergency and incident management. Our Automating the Foundations of Incident Management video series is a great place to start.  

Meeting the Sustainability and Emission Reduction Challenge

By Blog

In 2020, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by the U.S. electric power sector were 1,448 million metric tons, which accounted for about 38% of total U.S. primary energy consumption, and roughly 32% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions. Breaking things down even further, coal accounted for 54% and natural gas for 44% of those CO2 emissions. Emissions from burning petroleum fuels and non-biomass waste (mainly plastics) in waste-to-energy power plants and emissions from some types of geothermal power plants accounted for about 2% of power sector CO2 emissions. 

Are utilities still on the path to reduce carbon emissions by midcentury?  

The Sierra Club doesn’t think so. Critical of pledges and what they see as modest reductions, they released a report at the beginning of the year suggesting the power sector must do more now to reach an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. They believe the proposed net-zero carbon emissions policy by 2050 is just a dream if utilities don’t take drastic action soon.  

But never count the utility industry out. This is a challenge that is being met head-on with meticulous thought, planning and care. By moving too soon and abandoning fossil-fueled power plants, the industry has demonstrated reliability disruptions would be prevalent across the country, and costs would rise immediately. Those costs would manifest as extreme price hikes passed on to customers. That is not the way the industry wants to address sustainability and green concerns.  

Companies like Duke Energy have outlined their long-term plans to reach the clean energy goals. The proposal is a stout and realistic view of what they need to do to generate and exceed the 23,200 megawatts currently produced before they retire coal-fired and aging natural gas power plants and replace them with wind, solar and other sustainable options – WHILE creating additional capacity.     

Other companies are rethinking current processes, the resources they have and retooling everything from the ground up. Using solutions like the ARCOS Resource Management Platform, they are finding quicker ways to build the bottom blocks of their zero-emissions goal foundation. Paperless and with one source of truth reporting capabilities in a single platform, efficient resourcecrewcontractor and work management is helping define their path to zero-emissions success.  

The incredible shift in energy consumption, generation, and distribution over the next 29 years has started. Let ARCOS help your organization reach your sustainability destination. Contact us to learn more.  

Foundations Of Emergency Management – The Primer

By Blog

When dealing with emergencies, there is no one size fits all response for every instance.  Each problem is different (whether we like it or not) and that is never easy, however; there are three keys to making your response to any major disaster as seamless as possible: planning, rapid mobilization, and communication. 

Emergency Planning 

Emergency planning may be the single most important thing you can do to ensure you are ready for any event. Without a plan in place, you can expect absolute chaos the second things don’t go as expected. Rather than winging it, make sure to have a detailed plan of action beforehand. 

Having the Right Systems 

Once your plan is in place, you can focus on making sure you have the right systems implemented to ensure rapid mobilization of your workers to the job site.  Sometimes it can be difficult getting the right workers, especially with the variety of jobs demanded. Determining who is qualified to do the job, how many workers you need, and who is off or on vacation can be a very time-consuming process. However, this is where technology and software systems can be your best friend, doing all of this for you at the click of a button. 

Communication 

The third key is communication. Communication between supervisors and field workers is paramount.  Bad communication can often make situations even worse than before.  Luckily, technology is to the rescue again with real time visibility that allows supervisors to see exactly where their crews are, what the problem is, and how progress is going all in real time, along with recording all of the data that comes along with these projects. 

Let’s Roll 

ARCOS is a leading software company whose goal is to make your life easier by implementing each of these three keys into your company with technology.  We have helped countless critical infrastructure partners create a planmobilize their workers faster than ever before, and communicate effectively all while dealing with whatever catastrophe comes their way. Our new video series ‘The Foundations of Emergency Management’ goes into detail on these three keys and how they can help you and much more.  If you have a minute, check the videos out and realize your company’s potential! 

Critical Communications During an Emergency

By Blog

A strong communications strategy is crucial for critical infrastructure companies to fully prepare and respond in a timely manner. Communications is the key to effective preparedness, response and recovery. Be it a small, medium or large company or utility, communications should be one of the top priorities. The world has become a very small when you think about how fast information can travel around the globe. This shows why the need for effective communication is essential for critical infrastructure organizations in this age of vast technology and increasing emergencies, like storm season or wildfire season. Dissemination of messages to your workers and the ability for those workers to share information is an essential part of effective emergency management. 

Putting a Plan in Place
An important component of emergency management is the communications plan. When an incident occurs, the need to communicate is immediate. Many different audiences must be reached with information specific to their emergent event. Communication is so important for critical infrastructure companies and utilities that if a situation is not handled properly, even the image of an organization can be negatively impacted by the workers’ and customers’ perceptions of their handling of the incident. 

Communicating with the Public and Stakeholders
Emergency managers aim to ensure an organization will be able to respond promptly, accurately and confidently during any emergency and continue this level of response in the hours and days that follow an incident. If your organization is impacted by an incident, any number of stakeholders will want to know how they will be disrupted. Regulators may need to be updated and local government officials will want to know what is going on in their region. The general public may need information, even more so if they are threatened by the incident. Many times, all of these stakeholders will want information before your own organization even has a chance to begin communicating internally. 

How ARCOS can Help
With ARCOS, your company will harness the power of automation to facilitate instant communications of all types of data the company needs, whether you are tracking crews that are working in the field that need info immediately or managing contractors that are required due to an emergent incident. The need for all of this data can seem overwhelming, but we’re here to help. ARCOS’ robust incident management software and crew management software will help you get a leg up on the next event and help you get critical data flowing back and forth smoothly.  

Predictive Analytics and Artificial Intelligence: Transforming Data into Future Insight

By Blog

The amount of data available to organizations is staggering. With process digitalization and a push for a final step away from paper and spreadsheets into software-based resource and work management, insights are pouring in as to how operations can run more efficiently and cost effectively. However, analyzing the gold mine of data is a challenge on its own. How can this data be evaluated quickly to predict future trends and provide a heightened assessment of how to move business forward in upcoming years or during a current event?  

The Future is Now 

Predictive Analytics and Artificial Intelligence are two ways utilities and critical infrastructure organizations can use to translate all the incoming data points and turn them into usable lessons and actable process change. Both are decades old computer-world processes that have finally found a place in today’s complex business environment.  

Predictive Analytics is the use of data, machine learning techniques, and analytical algorithms to identify possible outcomes of future work and resource management needs based on stored historical data.  

Artificial Intelligence are computer systems that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence and move forward independently with solutions based on the empirical data it gathered from the same historical sources.  

The benefits of both are two-fold – they reduce cost and improve efficiency by going beyond what has already happened so a best assessment scenario of what will happen can inform future planning, budgets, and work assignments.  

ARCOS is invested in the future of Predictive Analytics and Artificial Intelligence and is currently researching and developing ways that our solutions can use AI to enhance customer operations.  

The Difference Between Automation and Artificial Intelligence 

ARCOS already provides automated solutions that improve operational efficiency and our utility partners’ bottom line. Solutions like CalloutCrew Manager and Mobile Workbench are proven tools that have made a notable difference in how organizations approach their work and resource management. What ARCOS is working on now takes the historical data from these automated processes and puts it to use. But let’s back up a bit. What exactly is “automation” and why isn’t it considered “artificial intelligence”?  

Automation performs repetitive, monotonous tasks. Its only job is to move things through a cycle. Think of automation as one variable problem-solving. If this happens, then this happens. It is a pre-programmed routine with a fixed outcome.  

Artificial Intelligence is machine learning that mimics what humans do. It is where machines can make decisions to move something forward without having the problem already programmed in. Think of AI as multiple variable problem-solving with the benefit of learning and without having human intervention. Based on the hard data, the AI makes its own decisions as to next steps or reveals trends and chooses paths that bring advanced awareness and increased efficiency into play.  

Use Cases in Development 

In our efforts to expand cost savings and efficiency, ARCOS’s first use case was a test of Asset Anomaly Detection. We loaded photos into our AI model and trained it to distinguish between working and correct assets verses those with problems or needing repair. The AI was able to detect that a transformer needed replaced, a pole was broken, or another item was defective and kicked-off a series of automated actions to correct the anomaly without the need of a human overseeing the process. Work and inventory acquisition orders were automatically triggered and sent through ARCOS Mobile Workbench which sped up the restoration and repair process based on the AI’s deduction and in-depth self-super-sleuthing capabilities.  

Our second use case was used to predict ARCOS Callout response. The same AI training took place in this scenario, however, instead of pictures, we fed the machine Callout data. The data included users’ names, historical dates, accepted job rates, times of previous callouts and more. The AI was able to provide a prediction of callout use and user response which helped augment the utility’s manager’s ability to make quick, better decisions and learn the internal user trends of their crews. The machine learning gave the operator the ability to know if they needed to add more people to a callout to cut down on the time it took to form a crew, which ultimately enabled them to get their resources faster.  

Again, both of the above ARCOS AI examples are in the research and development phase, but once tested and proven further, will deliver additional efficiencies to our solutions and help make decisions faster for our customers. 

Our AI Does the Thinking for You  

ARCOS continues to innovate while keeping a discerning eye on integrating advanced technology to our systems.  Real-world solutions – like Predictive Analytics and Artificial Intelligence – are on their way that will improve efficiency and keep costs low for our utility partners. We would be glad to share our future Roadmap with you. Contact us and let’s talk.