Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Lakeland Electric develops outage software in-house

Lakeland Electric has taken matters into its own hands regarding outage management. The public power utility in central Florida has developed custom software to track and record outages.

“We felt like we had the skill set and the expertise and had the software already to leverage and customize to Lakeland’s needs,” Cathryn Lacy, utility marketing program coordinator at the utility, said.

The utility started looking at developing its own solution after Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida in September 2017, leaving about 78,000 Lakeland customers without power. The utility restored power in 12 days, but the experience was a catalyst for improvement.

“We were looking for a way to be more efficient and accurate with our reporting,” Lacy says. Two years later, Lakeland is ready with its Damage Assessment and Restoration Tool Set (DARTS) software.

Instead of walking the utility’s network with printed maps and writing notes on paper, field crews are now able to use handheld digital devices, such as tablets or mobile phones, to record downed lines, broken poles and blown transformers. Photos of damaged assets can even be attached to the files.

Where the written information could take up to 12 hours to reach line crews, the DARTS system allows outage information to be sent back instantly to the utility and made available to work crews.

DARTS fully digitizes and streamlines the outage reporting process, says Lacy. “We will be able to collect all our data in one place, including labor, vehicles, work orders, and the information needed to request reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” Lacy said.

The DARTS system was developed by Matthew Krok, a City of Lakeland employee, and Lakeland Electric staff members Connie Rossman and Bob Ross, who recently retired, in conjunction with ESRI, the California company that provided Lakeland with its geographic information system (GIS) software.

Lakeland’s GIS system is used in the DARTS application, as is Maximo, Lakeland’s enterprise solution software for work management. DARTS consists of a mobile application, called Collector, and a suite of two office applications from ESRI.

Using the DARTS system, a worker pinpoints outage information on the utility's map and responds to a series of checklist questions to indicate the exact power line and substation involved, if poles or wires are damaged, if a transformer is affected, or if a fallen tree needs to be removed.

The damage assessment portion of the DARTS application is designed to work even if the wireless network is down by capturing data offline and cycling every 15 minutes to search for a connection. When a connection is re-established, the field data is synched with the utility’s central control database. The work management portion of the application requires a 4G cellular connection.

The DARTS application was officially launched in May but with hurricane season nearly half over, Lakeland Electric has so far been lucky to not have to use the system. It has, however, been using DARTS in storm response training sessions and tweaking the system as necessary.

Developing DARTS in-house also saved the utility money. Similar programs from outside vendors can cost as much as $400,000.

Lakeland Electric’s only expense, aside from staff salaries, was $21,000 to purchase tablets. Lakeland estimates that it spent $115,000 on labor for everyone involved in the project.

Lakeland’s DARTS system is being looked at by other public power utilities, such as Keys Energy Services in Key West, Fla. “We have shared how we did it so others can leverage the software they have in place as we have,” Lacy said.