california wildfires
Image credit: Stock

Southern California Gas has released a new study to help utilities and communities better prepare for disasters including wildfires and hurricanes.

The study was conducted by consulting firm ICF to investigate infrastructure damages and service disruptions caused by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey and the October and December 2017 wildfires.

The study highlights how other utilities are addressing the impacts of the hurricanes and wildfires through improving the resiliency of grid networks.

Key findings of the report include:

  1. Backup generation powered by natural gas pipelines is crucial for resiliency but is not established in some facilities.
  2. During the natural disasters, facilities that had back-up generation had limited impacts witnessed on their operations. In areas that did not have saw failure of water pumps in some locations, leaving some firefighters without water during the California fires and failure of air conditioning resulting in death of several seniors due to excessive heat at a nursing home in Florida.
  3. Natural gas-fired generators can also be fueled by portable natural gas cylinders brought in to evacuation sites away from dangerous areas.
  4. To reduce the impact to gas and electric customers in future disasters, utilities can work to further subdivide their service territories, so that smaller areas are affected when service is intentionally interrupted.
  5. Because it is underground, natural gas infrastructure is generally more resilient than above-ground electric power lines.
  6. Satellite and drone image analysis can pinpoint damage to infrastructure when physical access is limited and speed up response in the time-critical hours following an event.
  7. Enhanced cross-training exercises between utilities and emergency response personnel can help communities prepare for successful disaster response.

Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president of customer services and distribution operations, said: "This study gave us key insights into how we can create a stronger energy system that better protects communities."

Don Boland, executive director of the California Utilities Emergency Association, added: "This case study analysis makes clear the importance of gathering information through technologies such as SCADA systems and drone capability, then sharing that data in real-time interaction between utilities and government in a natural disaster.

"Utilities, law enforcement, Fire, DOT and emergency responders cannot be siloed. Everyone needs to share information so that all parties know what can be brought to bear in a disaster response."

SoCalGas is using the findings from this study to help enhance resiliency locally. The company will apply lessons learned through its Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Planning Grant Program, which will provide $100,000 in planning grants to two selected municipalities.

The full study is available here.