Everyone Accepts the Smart Grid Bringing Intelligence to the Substation, smartness to the distribution circuits and even ingenuity to the customer connection. But has it skipped over the industry's forceful linemen? Definitely not! For those who have not looked in a line truck lately, you just might be surprised to see the advanced technologies finding their way into the everyday life of the line crew.

What if a phone call needs to be made from the middle of the desert or an area ravaged by a storm? A lineman can use the satellite phone in the cab of the line truck.

What if the exact height needs to be known of a transmission line's energized conductor? The lineman can take out the TruPulse laser range finder, from Laser Technology Inc. (Centennial, Colorado, U.S.), stored in the bin on the side of the line truck.

What if a temperature needs to be taken of the contact on a line sectionalizing switch on a structure? The lineman can take out the ThermaCAM infrared camera, from FLIR Systems (Wilsonville, Oregon, U.S.), stored in the tool compartment of the line truck and take a reading to see if the temperature is within normal ratings. This tool also can detect SF6 gas leaking from the interrupter bottle, making the lineman environmentally friendly, too.

Linemen are probably the most pragmatic of any group in a utility. Yes, there are some folks in the line department who would rather walk barefoot across hot coals than use a computer, but they can be found in the engineering department, too. There is also the normal skepticism brought about by technology and change. As one lineman put it, “Mobile workforce management system is just another attempt by ‘Big Brother’ to watch me.”

Fortunately, many others don't buy into this philosophy. They see the real value in technology. If a new tool or technology makes life simpler and it works, then linemen are going to use it. They are not afraid they will lose their job if it takes less time to get that job done. They know there is more work out there than can be done by the current workforce. Talk about doing more with less. Linemen and technicians are the front line keeping the antique transmission infrastructure operating, despite the constant pressure from misguided management to reduce costs by limiting maintenance and cutting equipment budgets.


Remember the time when one or two individuals knew a utility's entire transmission system from top to bottom? They were walking encyclopedias of information. If there was a question about how a structure was made or how to get to it, these folks knew the answer.

The world is different now. It is a lot more complex and utility customers are much more sensitive to prolonged outages. Many stand-alone utilities have become part of holding companies through mergers and acquisitions.

Maintenance, inspection and outage systems are now capable of not only collecting asset data, but also incorporating geographical information system (GIS) with geographical positioning system (GPS) capabilities to produce true mobile workforce management systems.


About six years ago, Southern Company decided to add GIS/GPS capability to its Southern Company Transmission Operation and Maintenance Program (STOMP) software. Remi Myers, a transmission specialist with Georgia Power (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.), was part of the development and testing. “The utility's goal was to make the software as user friendly as possible for the lineman — a tool as comfortable as a hammer in your hand,” said Myers.

The ultimate test was in the software's deployment to linemen. In order to provide the field crews with a stable product that would be in place for several years, a pilot study was conducted to evaluate the Panasonic (Secaucus, New Jersey, U.S.) Toughbook ruggedized laptop computers. ESRI's (Redlands, California, U.S.) ArcMap platform was selected to give STOMP GIS/GPS abilities. Initially, everyone used clipboards with a host of paper forms. Southern Company took those familiar forms and adapted them to the new STOMP software. Myers describes the system as a “virtual clipboard” that has an added feature that a physical clipboard does not — he called it “a GIS with a GPS capability.”

The initial pilot deployment of the data-collection tool was completed in spring 2004, just before the hurricane season. The 2004 season had four major hurricanes hit the U.S. mainland in just under six weeks. Myers remembers that he and Jim “Bubba” Handley, now a retired senior transmission specialist of Southern Company, were delivering the new ruggedized laptops with STOMP software to crews as they were preparing to head to Florida for storm restoration.

Shortly thereafter Handley and Myers themselves used the flexibility of the GIS applications while conducting air patrols over North Georgia after Hurricane Ivan had swept through the area. “It was a rough day of flying,” Myers recalled. He and Handley were able to use the GPS components of the GIS applications to better direct the pilot in line patrols, collect data about outages and inform the ground crews of the best way to navigate to downed lines. “We were able to use the digital maps and photos we collected to brief the storm managers and receive guidance for additional patrols,” said Myers.


The 2005 hurricane season exceeded 2004, producing seven major hurricanes. Four of these had been ranked category 5 storms, including Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Mississippi Coast, resulting in power outages for every customer of Mississippi Power (Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S.), another Southern Company subsidiary. Southern Company sent line crews from all over its territory to Mississippi to restore electrical service.

Patricia Jermyn, an engineering specialist for Mississippi Power, worked closely with linemen in the field during the STOMP GIS/GPS deployment period. She taught both the computer skills and operational characteristics of the data-collection system. “There was some push back from the linemen,” said Jermyn. “Many linemen were unsure about having laptops in their trucks.”

However, all of that changed with the storm-restoration efforts brought about as a result of the hurricanes' destruction. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast, Jermyn's role of teacher quickly switched to one of staff support, updating and supplying transmission system data of the neighboring transmission systems to the line crews' laptops. Jermyn said, “There was a marked change in attitude for the better toward STOMP and the Toughbook laptops.”

Bob Stuckey, a transmission specialist for Georgia Power, was on the receiving end of all this information. He was sent from Georgia to Mississippi to help rebuild the transmission system after Katrina. Although he had plenty of paper road maps and paper transmission system maps, Stuckey said they weren't much help when there were no street signs or buildings to serve as landmarks for miles in any direction.

Stuckey speaks highly about his trusty Toughbook loaded with a GPS containing every imaginable detail of the area. “It had all the information needed for the storm-damaged transmission system, including structure locations, streets, highways, roads and even the ‘pig paths’ needed to get the job done,” said Stuckey. “And it was loaded before I left home.”

The GPS showed him exactly where he was in relation to everything else as he moved through the area. It was updated daily. Stuckey said, “I could see photos of how the structures looked prior to the storm and how they looked after the storm.”

Matt Seber, a crew leader for Georgia Power, agrees that the GPS data is something his crew does not want to give up after their experiences with it. “GPS data is of real value to anyone in the field,” Seber said. He has experienced problems with the GPS signal not being available when it was needed most, but this has been fixed. Recent upgrades have seen the antenna move from a magnetic device placed on the outside of the truck's cab to being part of the laptop. “Like all modifications, there will be problems at first, but the value of the system far outweighs those small problems,” Seber concluded.

“Hurricane Isabel, which occurred in 2003, was a wake-up call for Dominion (Richmond, Virginia, U.S.),” said Jerry Warren, systems analyst. Dominion had been working with MapFrame Corp. (Dallas, Texas, U.S.) since 1999 in developing mobile data and communications systems, and Warren had been part of the project team since its inception. The team saw how storm restoration would be greatly improved with real-time GIS/GPS data available to their field personnel.

Since mapping was one of the original driving forces (the system replaced more than 15,000 paper maps), data was available, but like the rest of the application, a storm-damage assessment process had to be defined and implemented into the Dominion scheme. He recalls how excited the linemen team members were as the assessment tool unfolded. Warren said, “I heard one comment repeated by the linemen over and over during the development stages: Look what we can do now!”

Dominion continues to improve the process and has recently combined its Panasonic Toughbook laptops with Verizon wireless cards, giving the crews almost complete real-time coverage in the Dominion service area.


The intelligent solution to the problems facing the industry is the integration of software and hardware. The advanced technologies of the digital utility are doing that in the line truck.

Linemen are using these technologies every day to do their jobs more efficiently and safely. Wireless connections to their laptops allow them to exchange data with the company's network from the field. They are able to view system one-line diagrams, check out structural drawings, schedule outages and clearances on transmission lines or call for hot-line holds. Some see the new technologies as an invasion of the field by the office, but the advantages of having answers at their fingertips outweighs any drawbacks.


Avistar Inc., a subsidiary of PNM Resources (Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.), has developed a handy bit of wizardry for linemen's tool boxes. The AP-20 identifies phases and phase angles in seconds on overhead and underground lines.

Al Houghton, senior applications engineer, remembers the good old days when he did distribution work for Public Service Company of New Mexico. Houghton recounted how the connection to the feeder would be made, and then he would find a place (perhaps at the substation miles away) where he could set up a signal generator on a known phase of the distribution feeder. He would then return to the connection point, get out the phasing stick and buzz the line to identify that phase. Then he would go back to the identification point, move the generator to the next known phase, and drive back to the connection point to buzz the second phase. The third phase was a given at this point. Houghton said it could take hours to identify the phasing on a feeder connection. Unfortunately, many times the connection phasing was wrong and had to be taken apart and reconnected.

The AP-20 changes all that. A base unit is installed somewhere on the system as a reference point. It really doesn't matter where the base unit is as long as it has telephone access. The hot-stick unit is touched to the line (120 Vac to 500 kVac) and sends zero crossing information to the field unit, which establishes a cell-phone connection to the reference unit and then identifies phase. The connection is made and the technician moves on.

This also is handy when balancing feeder loads. It seems feeders get unbalanced over the years as customers are added. This is so time consuming that most utilities never try to rebalance them. Houghton pointed out, “Each phase connection can be checked by just driving to it and making the reading. If the customer is on a heavily loaded phase, move them to another phase right then.” Houghton recalls that in the development stages, there was a great deal of work with the line department. He said, “The engineers were so impressed with the AP-20 they wanted to use it, too. So, the developers went back and made it simple enough that an engineer could use it — now that is user friendly.”