Disaster Talks: How utilities can mitigate the accelerating risks of hazard trees


It’s not like hazard trees — trees with age, fire, or disease defects – haven’t always been a concern to utilities.

The issue today is their exponential increase, which is largely fueled by climate change.

How can utilities, operating with often stagnant budgets, pay for increased inspection and removal of hazard trees? More important, how can they get up to speed on tree health to identify all the hazard trees out there?

To find out, AiDash VP, Bradley Smith, sat down with Robert Warwick, ISA Board Certified Master Arborist and former Senior Vegetation Program Manager at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).

The answer is data.

“I think having that information — having the right data and the right risk profile would allow the right tree crews to be doing the right work,” says Warwick.

To learn more about how utilities can mitigate hazard tree and other vegetation related issues with new climate technologies, read on. Or watch the interview here.

Watch the Full Hazard Tree Interview

Top Three Takeaways

1. Climate change inflames hazard tree risk

Climate change increases natural disasters: storms, floods, drought. In fact, it is causing much of the American West to experience increased drought, which is greatly stressing tree health.

Thanks to globalization and the ease of travel, pests from other parts of the world are another serious threat to tree health. The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), for example, has already killed off most ash trees in Eastern North America’s urban areas. And with EAB being spotted over the Rockies, things might get worse, quickly.

As a result, PG&E found that even when increasing hazard tree programs to every 6 months, trees are dying faster than that.

2. Traditional approaches can’t keep up

Calendar or time-based vegetation management approaches to clearing rights-of-way keep vegetation under control in some areas.

But sending crews in to trim a low-risk area per schedule while a high-risk area remains undiscovered or unaddressed is inefficient at best.

Typically located outside of the rights-of-way, hazard trees often don’t get inspected. They’re hard to ID, their health is hard to determine, and inspectors don’t always notice an issue until the tree is dead.

On top of that, once a tree dies removal becomes more dangerous. Worker safety becomes a heightened concern. Specialty equipment to clear out the hazard can run up huge costs.

You need a 360-degree view to create your risk profile, spot the early signs of tree health decline (even outside the right of way) and determine where to spend your money efficiently.

3. More information means better focus on highest risk

Early detection of tree health stresses is key to resolving hazard tree issues.

Utilities may assign workers to manually survey both inside and outside rights of way to identify stressed and hazard trees. But the sheer scope of finding and ranking these trees across the line miles can be overwhelming to the workforce.

LiDAR technology, another popular choice for monitoring vegetation, is great at identifying encroachments and measuring growth. But it cannot determine tree health, or whether a tree is alive or dead.

Both of these traditional circuit checks eat up the budget with inefficiencies — both in time and money.

Satellites on the other hand can gather data on your entire network at the press of a button. This climate technology can look at past and future tree mortality and identify stresses in healthy trees way before human eyes can.

Multispectral imaging analysis adds more detailed information: Send up a group of satellites to do a scan and get information on chlorophyl content, moisture content, how healthy soil is, erosion, clearances — without having to send anybody out to the field.

With a satellite and AI (artificial intelligence) solution a utility can identify up to 90% of declines from space and gain essential information for determining which trees need immediate removal and which need to be monitored.

Having that data to inform the risk profile allows for the right tree crews to be getting to the right trees at the right time.

“At the end of the day,” says Warwick, “it’s all about increasing reliability and reducing risk, particularly wildfire risk.”

For more about tree health and mitigating hazard tree risk catch the full video or learn more about how satellites can bring you the right data to create the right risk profile by getting in touch with a specialist today.