Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and severity. They are always unfortunate, having been associated with destruction, causing enormous damage to life and property and leaving behind trails of wreckage for utilities to clean up. Impacts of disaster events on human lives and the economy are increasing every year due to growing urbanization and human-induced climate change leading to increased carbon emissions, eventually leading to an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events.
According to an article by the National Centers for Environmental Information, the U.S. has sustained 279 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages reached or exceeded 1 billion USD (including CPI adjustment to 2020). The total cost of these 279 events exceeds a whopping 1.825 trillion USD.
Effective disaster management for utilities: An urgent need
Over the last few years, storms have been particularly unkind to US utilities, causing widespread power outages resulting in customer dissatisfaction, fallen trees and damages to utility infrastructure, eventually leading to losses worth billions of dollars and innumerable days of restoration work.
Scientists all over the globe have unanimously claimed that climate change is not going to stop anytime soon and this is likely to make natural disasters more destructive, a claim that has been seconded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) according to an article.
Utilities in the US have suffered enough this year. So far, there have been a record-setting 31 tropical cyclones, 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes, including one Category 5 hurricane. In fact, this year is being hailed as one of the most destructive hurricane seasons of contemporary times. The latest entrant in the Hurricane category is Iota which has already broken a few records and is expected to wreak havoc in Central America. Less than a month back, Zeta swept across the United States destroying utility infrastructure and leaving more than 2 million customers in darkness and losses worth a whopping 4.41 billion USD. Similarly earlier this year, Hurricane Laura and Delta knocked off power for more than a million customers and cost 15.6 billion USD in losses.
Indeed, most natural calamities cannot be avoided no matter how much time and labor is devoted to such an effort. But with careful planning and advanced technology, disasters can and should be better managed.
Eyes in the sky: How can satellites help?
To ensure robust system reliability and resilience, not only will utilities need to rethink their risk mitigation strategies for managing the impacts of climate change but disaster management will also need to be more proactive and predictive going forward. Thanks to the new advancements in satellite technology in recent years, satellite technology can make disaster management data-driven and efficient for utilities in several ways. It can not only accurately monitor and identify weather patterns but also correctly identify the intensity of a storm or flood damage. With the help of high-resolution satellite imagery, SAR and analytics, it is now possible to remotely survey and assess damage as well as predict weather conditions in advance, giving them an edge over drones or planes. Let’s understand how this technology can change the scenario:
- Risk management – Satellite remote sensing is one of the primary support tools for disaster management. It can predict weather changes in an area of interest via Artificial Intelligence and analytics help in assessing risk-prone areas in advance through predictive analysis and VHR (Very High Resolution) imagery and thus helping in managing risks much better. Drones can observe and report risks in smaller sites whereas the advantage of satellites lies in the fact that they are very well suited to observing, studying and reporting risks in much larger geographical areas such as – floods, hurricanes, etc. Satellite data form part of what is called spatial data because they include georeferencing. For this reason, they are the best source of data for the analysis and management of natural hazards and short-term weather and long-term climate monitoring. This is also true for storm zones, wildfire maps and detailed flood zones, among others.
- Using SAR for accurate imaging – Satellites use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) which is a form of radar that is used to create two-dimensional images or three-dimensional reconstructions of objects, such as landscapes or an area of interest. It has turned out to be one of the most useful and emerging technologies in remote sensing. The biggest advantage of this technology is the weather and daylight independence of radar systems, which ensure a guaranteed acquisition of the area of interest. This also enables consistent monitoring independent of lighting, weather, or cloud-cover conditions. It is known for its high accuracy even during the night time. SAR can “see” through the darkness, clouds and rain, detecting changes in levels of water and moisture, habitat effects of natural or human disturbance and changes in the Earth’s surface after natural disasters like earthquakes and sinkhole openings.
- Before and after disaster assessment of damages – Satellite’s AI model provides an excellent assessment of the extent of damages done by any given disaster. It helps access areas which have a higher likelihood of incoming disasters – they do this by detecting and observing the areas around the region and then map it against the changing weather and temperature conditions as well as use historic data of that region to measure the extent of damages that might take place. After any storm has taken place, the first 72 hours are by far the most critical. By comparing pre and post-disaster damage to assess the impact of the disaster, satellites combined with AI can be used to prioritize response based on accessibility as well as the criticality of damages in the area.
- Response and crew deployment – Data collected via satellites can be further ranked in order of their criticality, the number of customers facing power outages, accessibility to the location of the disaster and level of damage caused to utility infrastructure. Satellites are responsible for giving the most optimal routing to contractors and field workers to work on the damages caused. They do this using tools like a web dashboard and mobile app that run on Artificial Intelligence and analytics models. Crews can then be immediately deployed for priority-based restoration work.
- Efficiency and economic value – None of the above would be possible without satellite analytics. It is by far the most economic and efficient way to deal with disasters. It provides a 360-degree view so that not even the tiniest detail is missed and is almost ten times cheaper than using drones, LiDAR and airplanes. Apart from being cheaper in comparison, satellite imagery is also instantaneous. Hundreds of miles of geographical area can be instantly covered and inspected whereas drones may take weeks to do the same. Hence, it increases reliability by 15% and cuts down on costs by 20% saving a considerable amount of money.
Other than the far-reaching impacts on the people of a certain area and the environment as a whole, even a small disaster can cause massive power outages rendering thousands of customers in the darkness which in turn may lead to losses worth billions of dollars every year, eventually leading to absolute bankruptcy. The use of satellite technologies in disaster management has proven critical in timely allocation, assessment, containment and risk mitigation. Hence, it’s high time utilities choose the most advanced, newest technology over laggard manual work. AiDash is on a mission to empower utilities using groundbreaking AI technology and satellite VHR imagery. To know more about our disaster and disruptions management model, drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.