Pole audit is the broad term used to cover the survey of utility poles in order to get information about the location of the pole, condition of the pole and the pole line hardware, inventory of equipment, joint cable attachment count, etc. An audit can be as basic as making sure the pole is plumb or checking for pole grounds, or as complex as running pole loading and clearance analysis. The goal is simple: make efficient and accurate decisions about your poles with data from the audit.
Since the industrial revolution, wood utility and telephone poles have been used as the scaffolding on which North America has developed its electricity and communications infrastructure. The life of these poles is generally thought to be between 40 and 70 years. As the pole auditing process checks everything associated with the utility pole, the process ensures the poles have been built per the design specifications. Poles built per design can be better expected to reach their estimated life span and ensure public safety.
The advancement in the field of communication technology and the high expense involved with the construction of underground cables have increased the need to attach various cables (CATV, fiber, 5G, etc) to the existing poles. The additional loading in the pole caused by an increase in the cable count will potentially warrant the replacement of the pole. As pole replacement could also be an expensive process, the attaching company may choose to attach to the pole without proper permits. The process of pole auditing can help the pole owners be aware of illegal joint use and take necessary steps to prevent pole failures.
Additionally, pole audits can flag the poles not built per design. The engineers can re-run the pole loading analysis to ensure that existing poles comply with the National Electric Safety Code (NESC) requirements. The process can likely prevent the failure of poles while also saving its owner a potential lawsuit.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” – pole owners’ ignorance about their poles in the distribution grids and failure to replace overstressed poles could possibly cost them millions in revenue as a result of pole failure and illegal attachment.
Yet, at their worst, the effects go far beyond finance. Attachments add up. Poles get old. Location data is lost. And full inspection does not happen without knowing what’s there to begin with. Wildfires in California and deep freezes in Texas are only the most recent extreme examples of a lack of knowledge that could have been gained from audits and inspections.
No one will say these outcomes are acceptable, but even utility executives have said the cost to make the system perfect is not in anyone’s interest. We have to start somewhere though. In the pursuit of a more perfect system, pole audits sit at the start.
If pole audits mark the beginning of a better system, why are they not performed regularly? The answer largely depends on the cost associated with sending manpower to the field and confidence in the reliability/usefulness of the data they collected.
Common problems with traditional pole audits include the inability to organize big data sets. Trying to merge audit data from multiple field teams into one spreadsheet is a tedious process that is prone to errors. Additionally, the photographs of the poles present another level of complexity. Typically, pole audits involve large amounts of data so it is extremely important to organize, manage, and process data efficiently to reap the full benefits of the audit.
Another common problem with traditional pole audits is the lack of instructions defining the scope of the audit. For example, the term NESC audit is commonly found in pole audit RFPs, but there is no clear scope or guidance as to what rule(s) in the NESC needs to be checked. It is neither practical nor feasible to expect a pole audit to cover every rule within the NESC. The lack of scope definition results in pole owners believing “NESC Audit” checks for compliance with all NESC rules. Pole owners should clearly define, scope out, and explain what is expected from the audit.
The lack of clarity manifested by traditional methods and applications of pole audits has long created a level of complexity that made it difficult for pole owners and their contractors to lift the veil of ignorance about their distribution. In the last decade though, modern ways of performing these audits have begun to simplify the audit process.
Modern pole audits use advanced cloud-based technology platforms that include mobile field data collection units, GPS, laser, and cameras. These platforms allow field data collection teams to map out their routes, set daily pole acquisition goals, and upload data in real-time. The people at the office then immediately check the quality of the field data collection while processing data with a team of subject matter experts. The modern audit process is designed to be efficient, fast, and effective in addressing the limiting factors that traditional audits have long struggled with.
Today and into the future, the introduction of artificial intelligence creates an entirely new set of opportunities through data science and feature extraction. And while the promise of A.I. presents a massive opportunity, the modern cloud solution in use today will still serve as the foundation.
Often, the crux of a pole audit is the time and cost associated with collecting the data in the field then transferring it to a computer for analysis and storage. Cloud-based pole audit technology speeds up your field teams and gets the data right into your system without any transcription errors or pole revisits. In the cloud, your data stays organized and readily available for access from anywhere.
Cloud-based software brings all your audit data together and lets you draw unique insights about who is attaching to your poles and whether they are compliant. You can look at broad data trends or at individual poles and attachments as needed. Additionally, these reports can be used to check additional NESC rules that may not have been in the original scope of the audit
Visual pole condition reports are stored in the cloud allowing multiple stakeholders to verify pole conditions without leaving the office.
Cloud-hosted pole data is readily available to be used in any other format. From permitting, to pole loading, moving data can be as simple as a few clicks. Additionally, cloud-based data ensures your data is safe from deletion or loss due to local file management issues and benefits from the added security of tested cloud infrastructure.
Create routes for full inspections with pre-populated locations and photos. Your inspection teams can follow logical, location-based work plans to increase the efficiency of a full inspection and decrease cost.
Whether you are a pole owner or contracted by one to complete an audit, IKE offers solutions to complete pole audits more efficiently by leveraging cloud-based and pole-focused artificial intelligence.
IKE Office is the premier cloud-based solution for pole audits trusted by hundreds of utilities and service providers nationwide. The included IKE Device powers your data collection with photo measurement capability to allow your audit data to be more than just a photo. Scaled images in IKE Office can be measured from a desktop to view attachment heights and other critical information in the cloud. From there, you can export the data to your storage location of choice or use it as a jumping-off point for a full pole inspection project.
Additionally, IKE Insight gives you the option to add image and data source agnostic Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning to gain pole insights at scale. The agnostic nature of IKE Insight means it can process huge amounts of data from sources including the IKE Device, Drone, Lidar, and standard images. From there, artificial intelligence overlays the critical attachment data onto the image to create an accurate visual pole record that can be hosted in the cloud.
Contact us to learn more about leveraging IKE solutions to streamline your audit process.
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