Wildfires that consume thousands of acres, threaten and consume buildings and cause large-scale evacuations are an increasing fact of life. For water companies, damage to the water system along with efforts by firefighters and property owners to contain a fire can put tremendous strain on available water resources.
Many of the tools in BEACON for managing and measuring water usage under normal operating circumstances can help utilities during and after a wildfire.
In addition, because BEACON is cloud-based, it can be accessed from anywhere. That means that even if your offices are in an evacuation zone, you can use a laptop or tablet to log into the system at a safe distance from the fire.
During a wildfire, BEACON lets you, for example:
- Identify locations where usually high volumes of water are being used.
- Further determine whether the meters involved are for residential, commercial, irrigation, hydrant or other use.
- See whether the affected meters are clustered in one area or scattered across several areas.
- Spot potential broken water mains, irrigation lines and other potential leaks.
- Determine whether you need to reroute water from one area to another.
After a fire is contained, BEACON helps you:
- Create work orders prioritized by need after it is safe to send repair crews into the field.
This document explains how.
What to do Before Fire Season
The ability to select groups of meters based on what they’re used for is a basic requirement for day-to-day water company operations. As a result, most BEACON users routinely employ a combination of Location_Main_Use, Location_Site and Service_Point_Classcode fields to mark meters in this manner.
When meters and locations are classified by their primary use, Monitor page Tag, Account and Location filters (see the example on the right) let you isolate meters of interest and see their consumption data all at the click of a mouse.
What to do During a Wildfire
During a wildfire, that same feature helps reveal how and where fire might be affecting customers and water delivery systems.
The graph below shows usage for 1,592 meters over a 12-day period that included the worst days of a wildfire that burned more than 2,000 acres and destroyed dozens of buildings.
Notice that two of the two bars exceed the 1,500k gallon mark on August 3 and 4. The wildfire started around mid-day on the third and wasn’t contained until the fifth, when usage returned to normal levels.
During the event, the following procedure helped identify the meters responsible for the majority of water use:
- In the consumption graph, click Week to set the timeframe to a full week.
- Click Compare. This view told part of the story. The blue bars showed that 32% to 43% more water was being used on Wednesday and Thursday than on those same two days during the previous week (green bars).
- The utility’s Location_Main_Use tags provided the ability to see exactly which group of meters was responsible for the spike in usage. In this case, residential meters accounted for nearly double the normal usage daily usage.
It was possible that property owners were pouring water on their buildings and yards. It was also possible that water lines had been affected by the fire.
- Use the Sort by: pulldown menu to select Flow (Last 7 Days) to see the cards for meters using the most water.This action brought made it easy to compare weekly usage for those meters measuring the most consumption. For example, one had used 1,074 gallons the previous week and was currently measuring 42,574 gallons of use. Other cards told similarly dramatic stories.
- Use the Sort by: pulldown menu to select Leak Rate.This step surfaced the cards for locations with potential leaks.
- The Leaks>Leak Duration>24 TO 48 HOURS filter further revealed the leaks that started during the fire.Fortunately, the largest leak in the fire zone was only 26 gallons per hour. It also showed that few leaks started during the fire.Had there been a water main or hydrant break, the Leak Rate filters on both the Monitor page and Analytics page would have provided visibility into the location(s) in question.
- Use DMA zones if you have them configured to assess supply versus demand needs.
- Diurnal Demand exports can also help you chart changes in peak demand usage.
- No Recent Communication filters on the At a Glance page can be used to identify areas in which cellular communication has been impacted by the fire.From the At a Glance page Communication Health module, click No Recent Endpoint Communication to jump to the Monitor page and see whether any of the affected endpoints are clustered together. In this example on the left, the blue pins represent meters whose endpoints haven’t communicated. They are all located in a fire zone.
What to do After a Wildfire
BEACON lets you export the addresses and if available contact information for residents and others whose property may have been affected by the fire. Once the fire is contained and it is safe to inspect affected locations, the information in the BEACON export can be used to create field assignments and customer outreach as needed.
BEACON AMA provides a wealth of tools for managing water resources and measuring water use. During a natural disaster such as a wildfire those same tools can be used to identify locations affected by the event. After the event, information stored in BEACON can help you create work orders and contact customers.