6 highly effective ways satellites help utilities with disaster management


2.3 trillion dollars.

That’s what the 332 natural disasters since 1980 — that have had damages of $1B+ — have cost the U.S. alone.

And unfortunately, the averages keep climbing. From 1980-2021 the average of billion-dollar storms in the U.S. is 7.7. Halfway through 2022 we’re already at 9, and that’s before hurricane season.

Not to mention the wildfires, floods, and major storms happening around the globe (or the ones that haven’t quite totaled a billion in damages).

The evolving risk landscape for utilities

The utilities sector is majorly impacted during natural disasters due to damages to distributed assets, restoration costs, revenue losses from outages, wasted capital expenditure, and in some cases, liability costs.

The electric grid is one of the most critical infrastructure systems for modern life, but it is also one of the most vulnerable. Above-ground transmission and distribution lines are highly vulnerable to weather events.

Damage to infrastructure, vegetation-related outages to massive post-restoration work; these events impact reliability, chew up O&M budget, and damage customer satisfaction.

While utility infrastructure above ground is vulnerable to weather events, underground lines and pipes are prone to disruption during earthquakes.

All these systems are highly interdependent with other critical industries. A disruption to one impacts other services. For example, in the event of a major earthquake, damages to roads hampers the repair and restoration of power lines, which in turn affects other services, such as water and telecommunications.

Traditional risk mitigation strategies aren’t able to keep up with this evolving risk landscape.

With the frequency and intensity of natural disasters rising steadily over the years, governments and utilities are exploring the use of technology for preparedness, planning, and reduction in calamities and losses.

Check out our guide: 5 steps to faster utility storm response 

6 ways satellites help utilities with disaster management

In recent years, satellite technology has been able to provide accurate and reliable data using a range of high-resolution, multispectral imaging techniques. Here are 6 ways satellite technology helps with disaster management.

1. Accuracy and availability of near real-time data

Storm forecast data

During storms and other disasters, quick response time is vital to saving lives and minimizing risks. Accurate, real-time data enables restoration teams to dispatch aid to high priority sectors immediately. Satellites provide accurate, continuous, and near real-time data of large areas anywhere on earth, irrespective of weather, time, or terrain.

Thousands of satellites dedicated to earth observation and monitoring gather different types of data, such as optical, LiDAR, radar, and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery for mapping, imaging, and remote sensing. Utilities can leverage this data to derive accurate information about the situation on the ground and make data informed decisions.

2. Continuous monitoring and risk assessment

Continuous monitoring of wildfires, leakages, and faulty assets is key to risk identification and control. Satellites can provide that continuous stream of data by monitoring areas of interest to help utilities identify risks and prepare for disasters. Utilities can use satellite data to monitor distributed assets, overgrowth of vegetation around power lines, gas emissions, air quality levels, disaster paths, and other damages to find the areas of highest risk and probability in order to mitigate risks and respond quickly when they occur.

3. Weather and terrain independent data

When disasters strike, satellites sit safely above the Earth’s atmosphere and can produce up-to-date macro information of huge areas. This data — combined with cutting-edge analysis techniques, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine Learning (ML) — yield important insights about a natural disaster. Irrespective of weather changes and terrain, satellites monitor vast areas of the earth continuously.

Unlike drones and helicopters, SAR technology provides continuous data that is independent of light, weather, or cloud cover. This technology is highly accurate, even at night. SAR can also detect changes in water and moisture levels, habitat impacts of natural or human disturbances, and changes in the earth’s surface after natural disasters, such as earthquakes or sinkhole openings.

4. Intelligent and predictive information with AI

Satellite data coupled with predictive analytics and AI create actionable insights and recommendations. This data can be used to forecast droughts, monitor floods, map wildfires, respond to earthquakes, and prepare for cyclones, hurricanes and other major events.

AI models can add intelligence to data collected through satellites and rank them by key metrics, such as criticality, customers affected, accessibility, level of damage to infrastructure, and so on. Historical and current data can be analyzed and trained to derive meaningful information to plan, prepare, and act quickly to weather events and disasters.

Storm Response Planning

60+ utilities are using AI/ML in conjunction with satellite data to improve their operations and maintenance (O&M) practices for vegetation management, remote monitoring of distributed assets, risk control, asset hardening, damage assessment, and recovery and restoration planning. Employing improved and accurate data helps utilities provide better services, improve reliability, and increase revenue.

5. Disaster response planning and estimations

Satellites can provide valuable inputs for accurate prediction and rapid assessment of disaster locations and the extent of damage. High-resolution satellite imagery of an impacted area allows utilities to calculate damage estimations after a disaster more quickly and accurately than traditional methods.

Satellite imagery helps utilities determine access routes, accurate damage estimates, and plan recovery and restoration activities efficiently. They also help identify the type of debris left from an event, which can help them to send teams with the right equipment.

6. Identification of natural regional risks

Different geographical regions are vulnerable to various weather events and disasters. Historic and current satellite data coupled with AI helps predict which areas are prone to what type of weather events, assess the intensity and impact of predicted disasters, and plan and harden assets beforehand.

Remote sensing technologies help create digital surface models of the earth. Thermal bands help study land terrains, surface temperatures, monitor air quality levels, and detect emissions to predict land and weather changes. All these technologies allow utilities to identify natural regional risks and formulate appropriate plans. Region specific teams can then gear up for grid hardening, disaster preparedness, and save precious hours during restoration.

Combining satellite data with AI to empower utilities

Power outages and disruptions due to weather events and disasters will continue to be a massive challenge for utility companies if the right technologies are not applied. Preparedness and planning is key to minimize the extent and impact of disasters. The use of satellites in disaster management has proven critical in timely allocation, assessment, containment and risk mitigation. AiDash is on a mission to empower utilities to fight billion-dollar weather events and disasters.

Want to see how AiDash Climate Risk Intelligence System (CRIS) can help you? Contact one of our utility experts today to see the benefits for yourself.