By Senior Technology Consultant Nathan Jones
The old phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know” is enough to make anyone not comfortable with the unknown break out into a cold sweat. It references the fact that while you can control most of the known quantities in any system, there are always unknown variables that are not subject to a framework of law and order. This same logic applies to the utility vegetation management sector – even the most regimented and controlled electric system has a few proverbial wrenches in the works that can introduce an element of chaos.
One of the most frequently seen agents of the unknown is the hazard tree – an arboreal specter whose long shadow is cast over entire systems. Easily overlooked, hazard trees are capable of severely impacting reliability yet require different tactics than traditional cycle maintenance to successfully mitigate.
While all programs grapple in one way or another with hazard trees, systems that experience large scale tree health problems are at especially high risk. The past several years has seen a vast mountain pine beetle (MPB) outbreak in the western United States. With populations of spruce budworm and Douglas-fir beetle on the rise and the scourge that is emerald ash borer slowly making its way across the country (among a host of other insects and diseases), hazard tree mitigation programs are only becoming more critical and expensive as time moves forward. Outbreak or not, a wise vegetation manager will take instead of waiting for it to inevitably come pounding on the castle gates.
One of TST’s primary goals when designing FieldNote was to have a system that vegetation managers could use that was versatile enough to handle any situation.
One of TST’s primary goals when designing FieldNote was to have a system that vegetation managers could use that was versatile enough to handle any situation. It turns out that FieldNote is especially suited to handle the rigors of a hazard tree program, with several of our clients using the system to take proactive and aggressive measures to mitigate potential threats. Hazard tree programs are ad-hoc by nature, requiring immediate action while at the same time operating outside of typical budgetary and geographical norms.
FieldNote excels at quickly assigning work to far-flung crews and segregating resource allocation into separate budgetary categories. At the same time a wealth of data can be collected allowing managers to identify trends that will let them make more intelligent decisions in the future. While each client handles their hazard tree programs a bit differently, two basic tenets remain the same – finding hazard trees and removing hazard trees. FieldNote makes both of these quicker and easier.
One of the many impacts of a changing global climate, declining forest health is an issue that is unfortunately here to stay. Utilities are adapting to the new reality that vast sections of their systems are being impacted by climate-driven vegetation problems. While large swaths of trees can quickly die and become immediate fall-in threats to the integrity of the power supply, another danger looms even larger than reliability – wildfire. As utilities in California have recently discovered, trees falling into conductors can cause large scale remote wildfires that are difficult to contain, extremely costly and can cost human lives. Taking a measured, proactive approach while managing hazard trees will not only reduce costs in the long run and boost reliability but will also help to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.