Utility Contractor

JUL-AUG 2018

As the official magazine of NUCA, Utility Contractor presents the latest information affecting every aspect of the utility construction industry, including technological advancements, safety issues, legislative developments and instructional advice.

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July/August 2018 | Utility Contractor 23 Using a drone (or several) to inspect the line, turbine or boiler can save time and significantly reduce human risk. For example, a drone was used to inspect a 100-kilometer gas pipeline in Mexico. The company spotted a fissure possibly caused by seismic activity, along with oth- er potential problems, in just one hour. The same work would have taken weeks using traditional methods. By outfitting each line worker's truck with a small drone that can zip up and down a pole or tower to capture data and images, compa- nies can speed inspections and eliminate the need for a worker to climb to dan- gerous heights or clamber in or out of a bucket truck. Further, once the FAA begins to permit more flights beyond a pilot's visual line of sight (which currently requires a lengthy waiver process), utility companies will be able to service hundreds of miles of lines much more quickly and efficiently. 2. Natural Disasters. In 2017, ac- cording to the National Oceanic and At- mospheric Administration, natural disas- ters caused a record-breaking $306 billion in total damage across the U.S., the largest amount for one year. While that figure in- cludes far more than just damaged utili- ties, natural disasters do create dramatic repair and replacement costs for utility companies and can put workers in harm's way as they assess and report damage and aid in search and recovery efforts. Drones can be called in to map and assess dam- aged areas, search for and provide aid to individuals and families, extinguish fires, and capture essential imagery to aid in overall rebuilding efforts. 3. Hazardous Material Exposure. Dangerous chemicals can leak into the en- vironment for various reasons. Leaks can come from factory or power plant mal- functions, spills during transportation, or even terrorist attacks. In March 2011, a powerful earthquake caused a tsunami to hit Japan, resulting in severe damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The damage caused the release of dangerous nuclear material. Drones were deployed to assess the extent of the destruction and were able to provide aid in monitoring for radiation exposure, repairing destroyed areas, and rebuilding efforts — all while minimizing nuclear exposure for relief workers. 4. Avoiding Fragile or Dangerous Ecosystems and Habitats. Often utility com- panies need to build lines and place infrastructure in areas with protected native animals and plants in order to properly service nearby towns and cities. However, with the aid of drone technology, planning and constructing infrastructure can take into account sensi- tive ecosystems and habitats. For example, one engineering firm used drones to reduce its impact on wildlife and protected cactus in Arizona as it planned new transmission lines. 5. Suspicious Activity. Finally, utility companies can use drones to spot and prevent trespassing, vandalism, and other crimes. Using drones, they can quickly identify dam- aged fencing, monitor for potential security threats, and search for illegal drug labs and other criminal activity in remote areas. Managing Your Drone Operations As you add drones to your business, it's important to consider what software is needed to manage your program. Utility companies need to invest in software to make sense of all the photographic, GIS, thermal, and infrared data gathered by drones. They also need to understand where it's safe to fly, track pilot credentials, maintain fleets, and store re- quired documents like FAA waivers. Drone operations management platforms like Sky- ward offer a single source for pilots, risk managers, and executives to get visibility into all aspects of a commercial drone program. As utilities make the digital transformation, drones offer a powerful way to improve their operations, while increasing worker safety. Now is the time to make these un- manned aerial systems a part of your everyday operations. Mike Danielak is Director of UAS Strategy and Business Development at Skyward. Skyward, a Verizon company, supports commercial drone operations of all sizes. Web: skyward.io.

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