Learning consortium facilitates improved wildfire management

29 March 2022 Consultancy.eu 5 min. read
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UMS Group has launched a new global learning platform for utility companies. The new platform aims to enhance the battling of wildfires, as the impacts of climate change intensify.

Global warming is triggering an increase in how regularly and fiercely wildfires occur. The devastating impact this is having on the world is becoming more pronounced every year.

In 2019, Sydney’s bushfires caused $50 million in damage every day. In 2020, meanwhile, more than 4.1 million acres burned across the state of California, while in northern Colorado, the Cameron Peak fire was the largest in Colorado’s recorded history, consuming over 206,000 acres in the state. And recent disasters in Southern Europe, among other places, have further exposed the environmental and human cost of wildfires.

International Wildfire Risk Mitigation Consortium

As businesses and governments look to respond to the increased risk of wildfires, UMS Group has launched a new learning collaboration platform aimed at helping develop the management of wildfires around the world.

The International Wildfire Risk Mitigation Consortium (IWRMC) facilitates a network between the global utility community, supporting the ongoing sharing of data, information, technology, and practices, to help proactively address the mounting issue of wildfires through learning, innovation, analysis, assessment, and co-operation.

According to Joseph Lake, IWRMC Program Manager, while wildfire ignitions caused by failures of high-voltage electrical equipment are “only a small portion of the total number of wildfire ignitions” each year, as long as that number is not zero, utilities companies must attend to the risk.

Doing so can be easier said than done, though, as utility companies manage hundreds of different types of equipment of different vintages, from different manufacturers, with installation and maintenance practices that can vary from generation to generation. This is where the collective knowhow of the consortium comes into play.

Lake explained, “If one of our members identifies a piece of equipment or a maintenance practice that impacts wildfire risk (either negatively or positively), they now have a forum to immediately share what they learned with their global peers. This accelerates learning but also creates a sort of “peer review” process to contextualise the problem or solution and quantify the potential impact it may have on wildfire risk overall. That’s a critical step, as utilities must deploy resources in an efficient manner to minimise costs for their customers.”

UMS is a boutique consultancy firm specialised in technical and commercial asset management. The firm assists clients across the energy and utilities sectors, as well as other asset heavy companies (for example: public transport, waste management).

This expertise has shown to UMS Group the multiple ways in which utilities companies can help negate the risk of wildfires. Pointing to one example of this in action, Lake noted that San Diego Gas & Electric has deployed a sophisticated network of weather stations and high-definition cameras across their entire network.

He explained, “The data from this network is made available to the general public and can be leveraged to study weather patterns, climate trends, fire ignition probabilities, etc. Our members have also invested heavily in fire spread modelling so they can better understand how an ignition in a given location on a given day is likely to impact the community. They’re very much on the leading edge of this type of modelling, and we believe the approaches they’re developing will eventually be used around the world by any utility or community facing similar threats.”


So far, other members of the consortium include: Ausnet, an electric T&D company from Victoria, Australia with over 740,000 customers; PG&E, an electric T&D company serving Northern and Central California with over 5.4 million customers; and Powercor Australia, an electric distribution company serving the City of Melbourne, with over 800,000 customers.

The consortium has four primary working groups – Asset Management, Risk Management, Vegetation Management, and Operations & Protocols – within which, there are more focused areas of exploration. These include incorporating fire suppression into wildfire risk models, insurance and mitigation strategies, and fire-retardant options for assets and vegetation, among others.

One of the key threads running through the value chain is technology. Digitalisation can benefit the mitigation of wildfire risk, but it comes with a host of implementation challenges, which the best practices shared by a consortium can be crucial for dealing with.

“Digitalisation is a double-edged sword in many respects,” Lake stated. “One of the biggest challenges our members have shared recently is dealing with the large amounts of data that these new sensors and approaches create. We are seeing some really interesting solutions emerge in the marketplace for dealing with this problem. One that we expect to see more of in the coming years is the use of AI to help cleanse, organise, cleanse, and connect many disparate data sources.”

UMS group leverages its market expertise and global footprint to guide consortium members through many other similar issues relating to the use of data to combat wildfires. Particularly, the firm is currently seeing a renewed interest in data governance processes and frameworks.

Lake concluded, “We have so far found that even utilities that do not face a substantial wildfire threat can gain really valuable insights from the peer platform. Learning from the world’s best, we can rapidly share these learnings with others who are struggling with wildfire challenges, regardless of their geographic location.”

“While every organisation faces unique regional challenges, we’re seeing time and time again that there are so many common issues that every utility must deal with. With wildfires, the industry cannot afford to rest on its laurels or move at a normal speed. Our mission is to accelerate learning and we believe we’re uniquely positioned to make that possible.”