Aerial Inspections of Electrical Equipment Help Reduce Risk

In an ongoing companywide effort, SCE’s helicopters are deployed in remote, high fire risk areas so troublemen and linemen can inspect poles and wires from the air.
Skip to content
Stories : Safety
Stories : Safety

Aerial Inspections of Electrical Equipment Help Reduce Risk

In an ongoing companywide effort, SCE’s helicopters are deployed in remote, high fire risk areas so troublemen and linemen can inspect poles and wires from the air.
Photo Credit: Elisa Ferrari
Video Credit: Courtesy of Craig Stenberg

Video Link (Overhead Inspection in Redlands)

CHINO, Calif. — Inspecting electrical equipment is a regular part of troubleman Brandon Hyatt’s job. As part of the Southern California Edison crew that services Lake Arrowhead, donning a pair of snowshoes to get to a remote mountainous area is nothing new for him.

And sometimes, Hyatt does his job from a helicopter. He was recently part of a three-man crew, including a pilot and high-resolution cameraman, conducting aerial inspections of a cluster, about 50 spans of utility poles, in Running Springs.

“These aerial inspections are important since we can’t get some of this information from ground inspections,” said Hyatt, a 15-year SCE employee. “This technology helps keep the integrity of our infrastructure and the reliability of our service.”

Aerial inspections using high-tech cameras and software are being used throughout SCE’s service territory in high fire risk areas.
Aerial inspections using high-tech cameras and software are being used throughout SCE’s service territory in high fire risk areas.

Aerial inspections using high-tech cameras mounted on a helicopter and software that geotags assets are being used throughout SCE’s service territory in high fire risk areas. The cameras can detect invisible flaws using a radiometric infrared camera as well as visible issues using an HD imager.

The effort is part of the utility’s Grid Safety and Resiliency Program, which includes additional measures, such as installing covered conductors, deploying weather stations and increasing tree trimming in high fire risk areas. SCE is also using Public Safety Power Shutoffs where the utility will shut off power during extreme weather that increases the risk of a fire.

“We have always done overhead inspections, but our focus has changed,” said Craig Stenberg, SCE Air Operations Remote Sensing manager. “This effort is the same, but on steroids, and is driven by the Grid Safety and Resiliency Program.” 

SCE troubleman Brandon Hyatt at the utility's Air Operations in Chino.   

SCE troubleman Brandon Hyatt at the utility's Air Operations in Chino.

As Hyatt flies with the pilot and cameraman, he directs the team to focus on specific areas, including parts of the pole, wires and crossarms, looking for any signs of deterioration. The camera captures and geotags the images as the helicopter hovers over a specific area. The high-resolution data from the aerial inspection, including video and stills, is then sent to a large database where the information is categorized by area and geospatial data.

Once back at SCE Air Ops in Chino, an inspection team from Transmission and Distribution then assesses the footage and data to determine the health of the equipment. If any issues are identified, a work order is filled out and a crew is then sent to make any necessary repairs or upgrades.

“With these increased aerial inspections, we are making absolutely sure that every effort is made to identify possible ignition spots in high fire risk areas,” said Dave Guerrero, principal manager at SCE Air Ops, who noted that several aerial inspection teams are deployed each week. “We can see things in the aerial assets that you can’t see from the ground.”

Craig Stenberg, SCE Air Operations Remote Sensing manager (standing), talks to the team about a recent aerial inspection.
Craig Stenberg, SCE Air Operations Remote Sensing manager (standing), talks to the team about a recent aerial inspection.

In addition to the high-definition imagery, SCE is utilizing Infrared and Corona scanning and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a remote sensing method. The company is also looking at drones as part of this effort.

So far, 30,000 structures have been prioritized for inspection in high fire risk areas out of an estimated 400,000 structures throughout SCE’s 50,000 square miles of service area. The company’s goal is to complete these aerial inspections by the end of this year.

“We have increased the number of these aerial inspections and are incorporating the latest sensing technology,” said Tom Guntrip, SCE director of Transportation Services. “It is a true cross-organizational effort, motivated to get the best information about our grid, to help us better prepare for the future.”

SCE is using this high-tech, multispectral camera in its overhead inspections.
SCE is using this high-tech, multispectral camera in its overhead inspections.