The term oxymoron comes from the Greek. It is the combination of oxus, which means sharp, and moros, which means foolish. So, it means sharply foolish. It is often an expression or figure of speech in which the words together seem to contradict each other. A great example of an oxymoron is working vacation. In the era of COVID, we are all working at home, and even when we are on vacation, we still get phone calls, texts, and emails. How about when you need an impossible solution? Or when small power failures happen every day. We called these routine emergencies.
I spent half of my career working for a power company, a lot of it running operations. But, to be truthful, the organization did a lot more than operations. The crews built infrastructure, performed maintenance of devices, inspected, tested all kinds of things and did many administrative tasks. But true operations happen when things don't go as planned.
Often when faced with these events, I acted as a one-man-band. I had to make decisions in the deafening silence of the control room. The term management comes from the Italian maneggiare, which means “to handle.” Was I able to handle uncontrollable situations? If the answer is no, then operations management is an oxymoron. How can one handle uncontrollable situations?
I'll never forget a situation when I got the phone call an operations person never wants to get. A major substation feeding the hospital district of the city was on fire. All the primary and backup feeders were fried. As a result, every hospital was out of power, along with a vast urban, low-income residential community. Oh, I forgot to mention, it was during a brutal heat and humidity spell in the middle of August. The phone lines were jammed. Customers kept getting busy signals. The mayor wanted my head. Yes, during this situation, my only choice was to lay temporary cables in the streets. And hope for the best.
Yes, for me, then operations management was indeed an oxymoron.
Maybe not an oxymoron?
How can we add some structure to these events and at least turn them into organized chaos? The events that I faced running operations had one thing in common. Location. And, of course, GIS is all about location. Using GIS, there are three ways that operations management can make sense out of the chaos of unplanned events, like a fire in a substation, damage due to an earthquake, or a sudden wildfire.
The three ways are capture, understand and share.
When faced with one of these situations, I gathered information from many different sources, such as paper maps, notes, emails, news, traffic and weather reports. Then, as the decision-maker, I had to consolidate this information in my head to make sense of the data. That was tough and risky. However, GIS has the unique ability to organize all that data in one place. GIS provides that ah-ha moment. I can see where floodwaters are flowing, the wind direction toward my transmission lines or where the most vulnerable people are. It could even see where the event might severely impact those least able to deal with the event. Capturing and organizing the data freed me from this mental exercise of seeing through all the confusion.
The easiest way to see this is with a situational awareness dashboard, shown below. This dashboard illustrates the locations of damage.
Gaining Situational Awareness Using Esri ArcGIS Dashboard Showing Damage
Once GIS captures the data, it helps me understand. It shows me patterns and relationships, like where are the closest crews and how long it will take them to arrive. It helps me predict and prepare. GIS's spatial analysis gives me the tools for precise decision-making. It takes the data you captured and combines it. For example, say a piece of cable is old. In that same location there is rocky moist soil. And there is a history of thawing and freezing in that area. GIS aggregates the factors to pinpoint where bad things are most likely to happen.
The analysis below is another example of how GIS shows risk and vulnerability. It illustrates the impact of an earthquake on water pipes