Using Mobility to Ensure Worker Safety

By  William Atkinson — July 06, 2012

When ice storms, blizzards and thunderstorms cause major power outages, the Anderson, Indiana, Municipal Power & Light Division needs to maximize the productivity of its workforce. “We wanted to increase our efficiency when responding to outages,” said Jason Tuck, who was GIS manager for the utility when the mobile deployment was put in place.

Prior to implementing a new solution, the utility had no way of electronically tracking its workers when they were working in the field. “We used to track them by making phone calls to the field crews and writing their locations on a white board,” said Tuck. “When there were storms, the board looked like a chess game.”

But while efficiency was important, worker safety was even more important. That is, the utility needed to make sure that each field worker was finished with repairs before giving clearance to turn the power back on. This meant tracking everyone so they were accounted for.  According to Tuck, there were a number of instances where workers could have been electrocuted because the inside staff didn’t know whether they were still repairing power lines.


Solutions

Initially, the utility, which serves the city’s almost 50 square miles, tried a GPS tracking system to improve its scheduling, but with no success. “The GPS system wouldn’t necessarily collect data on a regular basis,” Tuck says. “For example, the system would report that a meter truck was in the northwest quadrant of the city. However, the next point it would pick up would be with the truck in the southeast quadrant.” In other words, there were a number of data points in between the two locations that the system was not collecting.

The utility then heard about Trimble GeoManager Fleet Management, a cloud-computing platform that allows governments to increase productivity by tracking, managing and optimizing scheduling for its vehicles. Trimble Field Service Management provides mobile visibility into field and fleet operations, so that users can streamline efficiency and increase productivity. Its suite of products includes fleet management, work management and scheduling, worker safety, and mobility solutions. The cloud-based portfolio allows Trimble to offer customers industry-specific, enterprise-level solutions that are easy to use.

The utility implemented Trimble Fleet Management in December 2010. “With Trimble, we would get a point every two minutes on the trucks,” said Tuck. This information was then placed in the Web interface. It was also interfacing with the utility’s outage management system (OMS), so that the dispatcher could always see where the trucks were located.


Benefits

The utility equipped each of its 50 vehicles with a GPS unit that communicates information back to the dispatcher via cellular technology ensuring both wide coverage and always-on availability. Using this information, the dispatcher finds the closest vehicle to a job and makes assignments based on real-time schedule status. Fleet Management also allows the dispatcher to view and print daily reports about activities for the entire fleet.

“This allowed us to become much more efficient - and safe,” said Tuck. Before Trimble Fleet Management, the scheduling process involved many phone calls to map a crew’s location. “With Fleet Management, we were able to see our trucks real-time on a map and make faster and more confident decisions, because we knew that their locations were accurate,” he said. Now, the utility knows exactly where each vehicle is located and can schedule repairs by a truck’s proximity to the outage.

This means that workers are able to respond more quickly. “Fleet Management is very systematic,” said Tuck. Following outages, crews can stay in one area, rather than having them work in the northeast part of the city and then sending them to the southwest part of the city. As a result of mobile-based Fleet Management, productivity has increased, and the utility’s outage restoration time has decreased, which has resulted in a 20 percent cost savings.

The system particularly proved itself following an unusual June 2011 thunderstorm. What made the event unusual was the fact that there were between 30 and 40 different outages in a number of different neighborhoods throughout the city, rather than just in one part of the city. “We were able to see where all of our trucks were at one time, and then maneuver those trucks around so we could restore power in a more efficient way than we ever had before,” he said.

Fleet Management has also improved worker safety. “It is important to make sure that each crew is finished with its repairs before giving clearance to turn on the power,” said Tuck. This means tracking everyone to make sure that they are accounted for. With Fleet Management, there is much less chance of error, because the system shows each crew’s location on a map. “Once they are checked off the list, then it is safe to re-energize the line,” he said.

Prior to implementing Fleet Management, the verification system was set up such that the utility would have to check with everyone while they were out working, to make sure that everyone was clear. Crews were required to call in to report that they were in the clear. “With Trimble, the checking is still done,” said Tuck. However, the utility can now double check it. If a crew provides an all-clear, it can also be verified on the screen. That is, the utility can match the Trimble information up with its OMS information, see exactly where an repair is, and verify that it doesn’t have any trucks in that area. “There is much less chance of error now, because each crew is visible on an electronic map,” he said. “Once they are checked off the list, then it is safe to re-energize the line.”




Our Trimble mobile GPS solution allows us to increase productivity but truly also helps to save lives. — Jason Tuck

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