EIA mashup

Real-time map mashup shows storm threats to energy sources

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has been collecting data and mapping the nation's energy infrastructure for a long time. But the EIA's Energy Disruptions web application, which tracks and reports on storms that could impact the infrastructure, has just made a major technological jump forward by integrating real-time updates of data from the National Hurricane Center.

The new tool, which also offers greater interactivity than previous versions, is available 24/7 on the EIA's website. 

With this tool, industry, energy analysts, emergency planners, government decision makers and the general public can track the course and projected paths of storms to see just what elements of the energy infrastructure lie in their paths.

"With it being integrated in real time in your browser, you're actually getting the latest information from [The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]," said Mark Elbert, head of EIA's Office of Web Management. "As soon as they update their projections you get them."

In the past the team had to create its own images of storm paths based on NOAA's data. "That was where the delay crept in," Elbert said. "And we could only update a few times a day, so we were always a bit behind NOAA."

Clicking on an icon in the path of the storm — or anywhere else on the map for that matter — will open a window that taps into EIA's underlying databases to deliver detailed information on the offshore production rigs and pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico, coastal refineries, power plants, and energy import and export sites that EIA tracks.

Expanding the scrollable and zoomable map to full-screen mode will prompt a layers panel to automatically appear. The layers can be toggled on and off to display particular features. (Testing it out, I counted 41 layers on the current map, including various types of power plants and transmission lines.)

The Energy Disruption application, in fact, combines data feeds from more than a dozen agencies and departments, including the Energy, Interior and Transportation departments, NOAA, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The maps are generated using Esri ArcGIS and are currently being served from Esri's hosting service, which uses Amazon Cloud, Elbert said. "It's nice in terms of the failover capability and scalability," he said.  Hosting the heavy data streams involved through Esri also prevent the operation from adversely impacting EIA's other data distribution streams.

It's still a chore getting all that data to work well together, Elbert said, but it's getting easier as offices standardize on formats. And more of the data they receive is already geocoded, which lightens the workload.

According to Elbert, the team is looking to add additional layers, such as wildfires so visitors can tell if there’s a danger to nearby high-voltage power lines or natural gas refineries.

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