The huge, slow moving category 4 storm with winds of 260km/hr crossed The Whitsundays coast on 28 March 2017.

It caused extensive damage to Ergon’s network from the Burdekin south to Sarina and west to Collinsville and Moranbah, cutting power to 65,000 customers mostly in the Mackay and The Whitsundays areas.

With more than 900 field staff from Ergon Energy, Energex, Essential Energy (NSW) and contractors on the ground working to restore power, most customers were back on line in just over a week. The target to restore all customers – where safe to do so – was 14 April.

Image of a helicopter, trucks and crews restoring powerlines at Cannonvale in The Whitsundays In terms of the electricity restoration effort, it’s been one of the most hi-tech responses to a disaster event in Australia’s history, thanks mainly to the help of an unprecedented level of data, geospatial visualisation and aerial surveillance mapping.

Like modern day warfare, the ground troops have been backed up by an army of technical support staff sitting at computers assisting with the entire end-to-end response from potential impacts, flood modelling, real-time damage assessments, restorations, data analytics and providing expert advice.

Picture of computer image showing network damage following TC Debbie

One of the revolutions has been the mapping tool ESRI and the integration of Survey 123 into FieldSmart to enable damage assessment and defects to be captured in real-time by the damage assessment team. It has all helped to reduce outage times and improve restoration times.

Apps and real-time dashboards have also provided structure, ensuring everything is accurate and up to date on Tough books and Tough pads in the hands of crews out in the field. The information has also proven invaluable to ensure stakeholders and customers have been kept up to date through the entire process.

“The availability of real-time data and pictures of the area has really enabled coordinators and crews to deliver their work. Although any new approach has teething problems, it’s been great to have the new technology and work together for the benefit of customers,” General Manager Customer Delivery Max Hogan said.

General Manager Engineering Standards & Technology Jason Hall said it’s been a truly sophisticated, highly coordinated response, the likes of which have probably never been seen before in Australia. “I am very thankful to the people who have been involved behind the scenes who have been working long hours to provide support,” he said.

The business has also worked closely with Fugro ROAMES, the Australian Defence Force and Transport and Main Roads to compare, contrast and share data to help more broadly with the overall response.