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Fugro Roames helping restore power to areas affected by tropical cyclone Debbie

Fugro Roames deployed mapping aircraft to cyclone-affected areas to aid response crews in restoring the power to 65,000 Ergon Energy customers.

On March 28, 2017, tropical cyclone Debbie made landfall in northern Australia. With wind gusts reaching 263 kilometres per hour, Debbie caused significant damage to houses, businesses, and tourist attractions.

Based in Queensland, Australia, Ergon Energy provides electricity to 1.5 million people, with 725,000 customer connections across more than 1 million square kilometres. Ergon covers 97 percent of Queensland, from densely populated coastal centres to remote communities, with two-thirds of its customers supplied through the company's rural network.

In Debbie's aftermath, at its peak, Ergon had 65,000 customers without power.

In response, the company assembled a 900 person-strong response crew and sent them to the affected areas of the state.

In 2014, Ergon sold off its Roames Asset Services -- which was initially established under the state government-owned power supplier as a services unit to gain visibility of its overall network -- to Dutch multinational Fugro.

What resulted was Fugro Roames, which now stands on its own as an asset management service that allows customers to investigate infrastructure in a virtual world, kilometres away from the physical site.

With Ergon deploying almost a thousand people to the heart of the devastation, Fugro Roames work program manager Scott Carpenter said his company immediately mobilised three aircraft to survey the affected area.

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Roames modeled network visualisation indicating High and Low Voltage power lines.

Image: Fugro Roames

Speaking at the AWS Summit in Sydney on Thursday, Carpenter explained that the aircraft covered 1,000kms of affected land daily, and collected bucketloads of data.

"We assembled a team in the office working 24/7 to perform the analysis and get the information back to Ergon as quickly as possible," he said.

From the office, Fugro Roams was able to see the entire Ergon Energy network through a 3D virtual environment, with the company's software displaying 1 million poles and over 160,000kms of overhead lines modelled to precise accuracy.

"We have the means to go from the state-wide level to zoom down to individual assets to get a phenomenal amount of detail so that Ergon staff can from their desk, explore anywhere in the state," Carpenter added.

"We have accurate models of the poles, the wires, we have a surrounding environment and most importantly the vegetation in proximity to the power lines so Ergon can identify the best response to keep the power on.

"Use the systems to identify those areas -- the network is huge -- so let's apply machine learning, all the automation principles so that people can do their jobs faster and safer."

Fugro Roames is supported by Amazon Web Services (AWS), and during this time, Carpenter said his company peaked Amazon's DynamoDB NoSQL database to over 120,000 reads per second.

That burst, Carpenter explained, cost Fugro Roames AU$308.

"Of course, what's important here is not the cost, it's being able to serve our customers better, being able to assist the people of north Queensland to get the power back on as safely and quickly as possible," he said.

Fugro Roames started operations with servers, storage, networking, and associated systems running in an on-premises datacentre.

However, as the business progressed, infrastructure restrictions such as periodic air-conditioning shutdowns and inadequate storage input-output operations per second became apparent, and the company outgrew the capacity of its on-premises datacentre within a few months.

Fugro Roames experienced severe challenges in scaling its storage and backup systems to handle the influx of data.

In response, Fugro Roames migrated to AWS 2012.