If you were ever a Boy or Girl Scout, or had one in the family, you probably remember traversing unknown terrain using just a tri-fold map and a compass to find your way. A group of employees at Southern California Edison (SCE) are still putting these skills to valuable use on a regular basis.
David Northup and his colleagues are Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists who create detailed maps of SCE’s 50,000-square-mile service territory. They use software to create sophisticated maps that plot millions of pieces of data points onto a canvas, anything from the position of SCE’s 1.4 million power poles to the location of the utility’s facilities from Irvine to Santa Barbara.
“I like to compare the maps we build as being similar to what you could find online at Google Earth,” said Northup. “But our maps go one step further and include everything from pinpointing the location of environmentally-protected lands to identifying dirt roads that our service men and women actually use to navigate to a smart meter located in a remote orange grove that only needs to be visited once a year.”
SCE’s team of GIS specialists is led on a day-to-day basis by senior manager Daniel Gomez. He notes that building these maps require the use of some of the industry’s most advanced diagramming techniques such as incorporating satellite imagery and aerial photography into the final product.
With the company continuing to build capital projects such as substations and other energy-producing assets, Gomez has had to expand his team having hired five GIS technical specialists in the last year alone. The group is part of SCE's Geomatics & Property Services. His diverse team brings skills from a variety of specialties, including computer information systems, geographic information science technology and environmental services.
“All of these unique skills ensure that the maps the team creates are as diverse as the team itself,” said Gomez.
On a typical day, the maps developed by SCE’s GIS group are used by nearly every department that touches the field, including engineering, environmental and construction. For example, GIS maps will be used extensively in supporting the company’s unprecedented $1.1 billion pole-loading inspection program mandated to by the California Public Utilities Commission that is set to begin in 2014.
“We’re working as part of the larger team to ensure that the folks in the field conducting SCE’s pole-loading inspection program have the maps they need to properly prioritize and track the work they are tasked with,” said Northup.
The maps built by the GIS team are like modern-day GPS devices that provide turn-by-turn directions, said Northup.
“While the average road warrior’s in-dash display might provide a driver with fast food options along their route,” he said, “the maps built by the GIS team continue to provide users with valuable data long after the rubber has left paved roads.”