Natural disasters are the world’s worst nightmare, and one that comes true all too often. Leaving complete devastation behind, communities are left to rebuild from the ground up and put the pieces back together one by one. Utility companies are significantly impacted by natural disasters – and restoring service as quickly as possible is essential for saving lives and beginning the lengthy process of rebuilding a devastated community. Proper asset management is a critical part of this process – and utility meter tags and barcode labels play an essential role in disaster recovery.
Natural Disasters Leave Complete Devastation for Many Utilities
If you ask a dozen experts what the best course of action is for recovery following a natural disaster, you’ll find a resounding theme: Planning. Excellent advice if you’re hearing it before you’ve been impacted by a natural disaster – not so much if it’s already happened. While most utilities do have some protocols in place for serious storms and other potential damaging events based on the typical weather patterns in the region, no one is ever truly prepared for a natural disaster and the unpredictable patterns of Mother Nature.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 5,000 utility poles were broken in one power system alone, according to Don Collette, a contractor and team leader for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who helps utilities recover after storms and more-significant natural disasters. In addition to restoring power as soon as possible, the utility company must find an environmentally-sound way to dispose of the broken poles, Collette says in an interview with the American Public Power Association.
Cleanup is only the first step in a lengthy and laborious process. You have to identify which assets have been lost or compromised – a tedious task if you’re trying to match up map locations with physical assets that have been carried miles away by flood waters or high winds.
Advance Planning Aids Restoration Logistics
Collette says the process of restoration after a natural disaster is an “awesome task.” Often, most of a utility’s assets are completely wiped out during major natural disasters – meaning it’s basically necessary to rebuild a power system from scratch. And while you’re doing that, make sure to incorporate lessons learned into better planning for the next disaster.
While many other municipal and nearby utilities are willing to send assistance to help with restoration, there’s a lot of paperwork involved in those arrangements – Collette suggests getting those agreements in place before a disaster happens to speed up the process when it counts. Even obtaining assistance from FEMA is a pretty considerable paperwork process.
Prior to a disaster, if a utility’s assets are properly tagged and labeled and recorded in an asset management system, the monumental task of identifying which assets are salvageable and which assets have been completely destroyed becomes a little easier. If you’re using an asset management system and your data is properly backed up, it’s possible to conduct an analysis to determine exactly what assets have been impacted and pinpointing the bottom line financial cost of restoring service. That means you have an accurate picture of what it’s going to take, so you can make FEMA requests and seek other government aid more easily.
Rebuilding with Utility Meters and Poles
The 5,000 utility poles lost in one power system in Hurricane Katrina didn’t just need to be disposed of – they needed to be replaced in order to restore service. And replacing assets means replacing utility meter tags, pole markers and barcode labels to accompany those assets.
This is yet another part of the rebuilding process that’s a lot easier if you have a comprehensive system in place already. Even if every utility meter is destroyed along with its tag, your software application still holds a database with all that essential information. You’ll know the precise location of every utility pole and meter within the entire service area – making reordering and replacing those assets and their accompanying identifiers much simpler, even if changes to the landscape make it necessary to reconfigure some of these assets.
The Public Works Department for one U.S. Golf Coast city learned this firsthand when they experienced difficulty obtaining FEMA reimbursements for signs destroyed in Hurricane Charley in 2004. The Department elected to assign bar codes to all new signs purchased moving forward in order to streamline the documentation process and speed recovery after future disasters. Read Camcode’s case study to learn more about how this Public Works Department improved disaster planning using Camcode’s asset tracking solutions.
Whether you’re planning for or recovering from a natural disaster, utility asset tags are invaluable. Not only do they speed up the recovery process, but they streamline day-to-day operations as well. Contact Camcode today to discuss a customized utility asset tag solution that will prepare your company for whatever Mother Nature may throw your way.