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How PG&E is Using Drones for Wildfire Response

October 20, 2017

Photo courtesy of PG&E
Photo courtesy of PG&E

Marking a first for the company, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is flying drones over wildfire-damaged areas of Northern California to assess the condition of critical infrastructure that cannot be easily accessed by company personnel and ground-based equipment.

During the wildfire response, teams operated multiple morning flights over the fire zones north of the company’s Santa Rosa base camp and near the Napa base camp, capturing videos and still images of PG&E equipment.

The team of four includes a pilot; an observer, or co-pilot, from the drone vendor; a subject matter expert, who reviews the impacted facilities; and a safety officer, who ensures that the public is safe during the drone’s flight. The information collected is shared with the base camps in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties and in the Emergency Operations Center in San Francisco to help in PG&E’s efforts to restore service to its customers and rebuild its infrastructure.

PG&E has been using drones for nearly two years in single-case applications, such as substation mapping. This helped inform the company’s strategy and policy for unmanned aircraft system implementation in other situations, such as wildfire response

Deploying drones to conduct inspection flights required PG&E Aviation Services to work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration and CAL FIRE to secure necessary approvals. Prior to the first flights being launched, however, PG&E’s Cybersecurity team worked closely with Aviation Services and the respective lines of business to develop protocols allowing for easy tracking and identification of the data collected.

And, to ensure that the data collected was preserved in accordance with applicable regulations, the Enterprise Records and Information Management team developed criteria to meet regulatory requirements. Once the flights began, IT Infrastructure and Operations worked with base camp technical staff on collecting and transmitting the information so that EOC personnel and our teams at the base camps could utilize this information to guide our restoration efforts.

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