Redding Electric Utility (REU) has been providing safe, reliable energy to the City of Redding in Northern California for over 100 years. With about 200 employees, 61 square miles of service territory and a long reputation of working closely with community partners and key local government stakeholders, the utility company is integral to the community both in generating, monitoring, and distributing electricity and as a locally-controlled, not-for-profit entity under the Redding City Council.
One of the chief priorities of REU is to play an active role in both preventing risk and providing emergency assistance to City of Redding residents in the event of a disaster. The lessons learned after navigating emergency responses to the calamitous Carr fire, and repairing crippled utilities as a result of the state’s largest snowstorm in 50 years, were eye-opening for REU and the City of Redding. In 2018, the State of California mandated that all electric utilities were required to have a Wildfire Mitigation Plan by the year 2020. An increase in fires caused by or impacting utilities across the state led REU leadership to look at proactive ways to expand emergency operations and oversight over REU’s infrastructure to ensure safe and reliable service to the community.
With the discovery that electrical transmission disruption and equipment failures are now the leading cause of California wildfires, and since wildfire season has gradually started earlier and earlier each year, “the need to expand emergency operations and oversight over REU’s infrastructure was greater than it had ever been in the past,” said Shawn Avery, Program Supervisor at Redding Electric.
Ready to embrace the change, REU developed the Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WFMP) with approval from the Redding City Council in December 2019. This funded and set in motion the process of a need-gap analysis, collaboration with police and fire responders, and reimagining emergency response from end to end by partnering with Vistacom Control Room Solutions and Barco—putting an emphasis on utilizing the right technology in an operations center that had limited functionality in terms of data visualization, monitoring capabilities and real-time communications.
“The expanded and upgraded EOC [Emergency Operations Center] needed to be centrally located, so that all of our utilities and surrounding agencies could work together,” stated Shawn Avery, REU Program Supervisor. “Our Director, Dan Beans, was the driving force behind transforming the mission-critical space. With that, we initially reached out to Barco for their expertise, and through a competitive proposal process, we partnered with Vistacom Control Room Solutions as our integrator of choice.”
Working hand-in-hand with Barco on conceptualizing, designing and building REU’s new leading-edge EOC, the Vistacom Control Room Solutions team relied on the clear and consistent channels of communication and seamless teamwork between all technology and facilities personnel involved. Paul Reigner, Utilities & Energy Market Manager for Vistacom Control Room Solutions, expressed that, “when you integrate a technology solution that is this advanced and practically one-of-a-kind, that level of commitment and service is a lifeline that is super important for everyone.”
With such support, and readiness to execute a state-of-the-art operations center, Vistacom was able to button-up the design and begin the complex technology integration in March 2021. Avery pointed out, “Even through dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, things went seamlessly; and the Vistacom team still found a way to come out to see REU’s facility and get familiar with the space.”
REU’s DOC (Department Operations Center) will double as the City of Redding’s EOC and the primary location during emergency conditions, meaning that the control room design must accommodate key city operators, officials, and leaders during events of magnitude that may have a city-wide impact.
To enable operators to make effective, real-time decisions, a Barco visualization solution and layout was implemented. The centerpiece of this solution features an 8-wide by 3-high Barco UniSee tiled LCD video wall, supplemented with two adjacent 3-wide by 3-high video walls. The mounting structure for each of the three video walls was customized in order to provide a seismic-rated mounting interface with precision alignment.
Utilizing Barco’s command and control ecosystem of technology solutions, the video wall is driven by processing and visualization technology that enables operators to aggregate, manipulate and analyze content and data from multiple sources across the video walls. This includes the SCADA software covering REU’s energy distribution and transmission networks, natively rendered web browsers and applications, high-quality streaming over a range of bandwidths, geographic data through the GIS (Geographic Information System), and surveillance from the leading-edge IQ FireWatch multi-spectral sensor system.
Barco’s SecureStream was also deployed for both local and remote use. The media streaming solution makes sharing content from REU’s operations center to external stakeholders (and vice versa) easy and secure with an intuitive user interface. An addition to Barco's TransForm N and CMS control room products, SecureStream enables rapid communication and collaborative decision-making. It allows operators to drag and drop video or data sources into a channel that can be easily pushed to field staff or external experts.
To round out the EOC, Vistacom also integrated an interconnected AV and unified collaboration system providing the space with fully integrated, professional-grade audio and video conferencing. With the addition of Barco’s powerful wireless presentation and collaboration solution, ClickShare, this space becomes an environment conducive to seamless interaction between operators and stakeholders within the control room and out in the field.
REU uses the upgraded space to proactively achieve two primary goals: prevent fires caused by, or potentially impacting, REU infrastructure, and coordinate better responses if wildfires do occur in or around the City of Redding. Moreover, the new DOC/EOC now ensures that consistent, reliable power remains distributed in the event of interruption, damage or outage.
Redding Police Chief, Bill Schueller, stated, “The new operations center at REU brings interoperability among City departments to a whole new level. The EOC will leverage advanced technology to assist incident commanders with providing a coordinated, unified response to natural disasters, pre-planned events, and large-scale emergencies unlike ever before.”
Both Department and Emergency Operations have become more efficient and accurate by creating a mission-critical environment that enhances overall situational awareness, collaboration and communication and, ultimately, a quick and correct response. Avery said, “This new emergency operations system allows our command staff and leadership to easily monitor locations of staffing and communicate with our people in the field, while also managing large events that impact our community.”