Combating Consequences of Catastrophic Climate Change by the Private Sector

California has been suffering from devastating catastrophic wildfires in recent years. The frequency and extent of these events have only accelerated with increasing loss of life, property, and a sense of safety by many communities. A key sector that provides critical services and has extensive equipment and staff in the field are the energy providers in the state.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has released its 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP) that details three main goals: (1) reducing wildfire ignition risk, (2) enhancing wildfire risk situational awareness, and (3) reducing the impact of having to shut off power during critical events.

It is an interesting and comprehensive document showing how the company is systematically improving its resilience to wildfires and other disasters by investing in capabilities for improved situational awareness, preparedness, and response. This involves new types of tools, equipment, technologies, and training. There are also efforts to engage with the public and key government and private stakeholders in the region to build a whole-of-community approach to better manage these events.

California and this sector have many lessons learned that should be noted by other critical infrastructure sectors in the US and by other countries.

A central asset to support improved decision-making is the creation of a Wildfire Safety Operations Center (WSOC) and a 24/7 meteorology operations to better manage wildfires but will also be used to support day-to-day operations.

An explicit goal is to have risk-informed decision making. PG&E describes using sophisticated risk assessments, simulations, risk management and risk mitigation analyses to underpin its preparedness initiatives, technology procurements and stakeholder engagements.

A key to a better outcome is early warning of high fire risk conditions and real-time identification of emerging wildfires. To support the detection of impending events PG&E has installed weather stations (1,300 by the end of 2021) and HD cameras (600 by the end of 2022).

Data of all kinds is identified as the most valuable resource to improve activities in the complete life cycle of managing catastrophic events. A central repository of asset and risk management data is being cradled in a data lake that will include physical, operational, lifecycle and environmental data elements from disparate built-for-purpose data systems into a single environment and will be used for advanced analytics, business intelligence (BI), visualizations, dashboards, and data sharing.

This data of trusted and accessible data will be used for critical business decision-making for operational decisions. PG&E will also develop and host BI dashboards, analytics, and data science models to inform strategic decisions.

WSOC will act as a coordination, facilitation, and communications hub for wildfire activities. The WSOC also has a centralized view of assets, their availability and status. The report describes increasing use of helicopters used for inspections and applying new procedures such as using fixed-wing aircraft equipped with cameras and infrared equipment assets at night.

The WSOC is also institutionalizing standard after-action reviews and procedures to make sure that lessons learned are quickly folded into standard operating procedures.

The main software platform, Palantir’s Foundry product, was procured in November 2020 to advance PG&E’s ability to make data-driven decisions by improving the accessibility, quality, and usability of information.

The platform will support decision-making, reporting, and communications. The Palantir platform is connected to 50+ source systems to centralize and make usable data available for critical decisions. The number of connected systems, records, and enabled analytics models will increase over time. The data platform does not replace the underlying source data systems of record, but rather provides a central platform to enable data.

External parties such as CAL FIRE and local emergency management agencies will also be connected to the platform.

In 2021, PG&E describe that new features will come on-line, such as event scoping decisions, customer notification and re-energization management. This platform will enable us to identify trends in asset condition, create alerting workflows for Asset Managers, build predictive risk metrics, and bring the data asset to field patrols.

PG&E describes many concluded, on-going, and future emerging technology trials and pilots that can mitigate wildfire risk and associated potential impact on public safety.

These capabilities revolve around:

• Situational awareness and forecasting

• Grid design and hardening

• Asset management and inspections, drones

• Asset Analytics and Grid Monitoring

• Communication tools and control networks to provide real or near-real time operational visibility

Additional interesting information can be found in the 1000+ page report that was released on February 5th.