Hurricane Data Mashup Helps Power Grid Weather Storms

Energy Information Administration launches new real-time map of energy infrastructure overlaid with severe weather.

Patience Wait, Contributor

July 11, 2013

3 Min Read

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When Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast last fall, everyone knew it would be an historic storm, but they didn't know what a devastating effect the storm would have on generation plants, transmission lines, and other parts of the energy infrastructure.

Today, if another storm should head for the Jersey shore, or anywhere else in the country, those responsible for planning for disaster services have a tool that can give them a heads-up on vulnerable energy resources.

The Energy Information Administration has created a new Energy Disruptions website that combines real-time information from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) with more than two dozen layers of mapping data covering everything from power plants and transmission lines to pipelines and refineries, shale and coal fields, resources located on federal land, and more.

"The real-time data, combined with the infrastructure [information], really gives an idea of what would be impacted by these events," said Mark Elbert, director of the EIA's Office of Web Management. "Take the pipeline infrastructure along the Gulf of Mexico and combine [that] with storm surge predictions -- it's the value that's brought by bringing two different data sets together."

[ These weather forecasts take on special significance for business: Big Data Reveals Weather-Related Shopping Patterns. ]

Elbert said that the EIA has undergone a change in mindset about GIS metadata. "In the past, when we did mostly aggregation, such as state-level statistics, for instance, it was sufficient to know what county a plant was in, or the zip codes."

Many of the datasets that EIA is using come from publicly available sources, such as the NHC hurricane forecasts and weather information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, plus EIA's own databases for energy facilities of all kinds, Elbert said. They can be downloaded by individuals and companies for their own use. Some of the datasets are proprietary or restricted, however. For instance, the location of transmission lines is shown at the state level but cannot be taken down to the county level.

The Energy Disruptions page is just one of EIA's efforts to provide interactive data to the public. The agency has introduced the Electricity Data Browser, which provide new ways for users to look at the information the EIA gathers. Elbert said the EIA created both the state maps and the disruption maps, while it awarded a contract to ESRI for its GIS software and hosting services.

"We use their ArcGIS desktop software to create and assemble maps in the cloud," Elbert said. "The Web pages are hosted on EIA's servers; it's just the map services that the map viewer component uses to get geo-data" as the user explores the layers and features.

Elbert recently wrote about EIA's development of these pages for the American Statistical Association. But "the disruptions page has gotten more attention than anything else we've done in the last year," he said.

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Patience Wait


Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek.

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