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75-position Zetron System Controls Operations at Puget Sound Energy

The installation of a 75-position solution that seamlessly integrates Zetron’s Advanced Communications (ACOM) system with Tait Communications’ MPT 1327 trunked radio network was recently completed for Puget Sound Energy in Washington State.

Most of us take for granted the fact that with the mere flip of a switch, we can turn on the lights, the heat, or any number of devices that make our lives easier and more comfortable. We don’t have to think about it because the utility companies that oversee these services are thinking about it for us.

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is the utility responsible for delivering gas and electrical services throughout much of western Washington State. They provide electricity to more than a million customers and natural gas to 750,000 customers in a 6,000-square-mile area that comprises the largest metropolitan region north of San Francisco and west of Chicago.

Thanks to a recent major overhaul of the radio dispatch communications equipment PSE uses to manage their vast operations, they now have a new, state-of-the-art solution that combines Zetron’s Advanced Communications (ACOM) console system with Tait’s MPT 1327 trunked radio infrastructure. The result is a comprehensive solution that meets narrowbanding requirements, supports PSE’s current operations, and provides the flexibility to expand and evolve along with PSE’s needs well into the foreseeable future.

PSE’s five service groups

PSE’s dispatch communications are centralized at its Eastside Systems Operations (ESO) office located in Redmond, Washington.

The center consists of five service groups. On the electrical side, Crew Dispatch sends crews out to handle relatively minor issues-such as connecting a new meter, replacing a fuse, or securing a power line after a car has struck a power pole. Systems Operations manages the lower voltages of PSE’s system. The Load Office oversees high-voltage areas such as substations and substation lines.

On the natural gas side, Gas Dispatch mobilizes crews and equipment in response to customer calls for service and gas emergencies such as outside leaks and breaks. Gas Control monitors and adjusts the pressure in the gas lines to ensure gas is flowing properly.

The functions each of these groups manages have the potential to involve varying degrees of danger, especially if they’re handled incorrectly. That’s why reliable, effective communications are so critical to PSE. And this is, in part, why PSE chose Zetron to participate in their recent communications equipment upgrade.

The power of partnership

Jiri Sykora, a senior radio engineer with PSE, says that PSE’s relationship with Zetron dates back to the early 1990s when the utility first installed Zetron’s button-based dispatch system. PSE subsequently moved to Zetron CRT-based consoles. Then in 2005, they built a backup center and equipped it with Zetron’s first IP-based dispatch consoles.
“Zetron’s ongoing partnership with us has been instrumental in helping us move forward with our communications technology,” says Sykora. “It has also given us great confidence in Zetron’s products and services.”

Meeting the mandate

The recent project began when PSE decided to install the equipment necessary to comply with the FCC’s narrowbanding mandate. The utility issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the new radio infrastructure, dispatch console system, and mobile and portable radio units narrowbanding would require.

Zetron responded to the console component of the RFP with a bid featuring its ACOM system. Tait Communications submitted a proposal that included its MPT trunked network and another vendor’s console system. Several other vendors also responded, but Zetron, Tait, and another network provider were the vendors that advanced to the next stage.

“Our dispatchers and project teams reviewed Zetron’s console system and the console system included in Tait’s bid,” says Sykora. “They liked the Zetron console best because it’s so flexible and easy to use. We also liked Tait’s MPT network. So we asked Tait to redo their proposal based on their infrastructure and Zetron’s ACOM system. We told them that if we liked the bid at that point, we’d sign off on it. And that’s what we did.”

The solution PSE chose included Tait’s MPT 1327 trunked radio infrastructure and two fully redundant ACOM systems with 75 console positions that would be installed in PSE’s main and backup centers and at remote locations throughout the Puget Sound region.

A four-phase installation

Sykora says that because of the project’s scope, it was completed in four phases. “For the first phase, we installed a fully redundant ACOM system in the main center that would mimic the existing system,” he explains. “The ACOM system was connected to PSE’s legacy radio infrastructure. Tait’s MPT infrastructure was also installed, but we didn’t switch over to it at this stage.”

“The second phase involved setting up in PSE’s Backup Control Center a near-mirror image of the ACOM system we’d just installed in main center,” he continues. “We also transitioned to the new MPT system. This was very easy. Because everything was in place, all the dispatchers had to do was switch to a new screen. For the third phase, 13 fully functional remotes were set up at PSE’s nine sites located throughout Western Washington, from Bellingham to Olympia. And for the fourth and final phase, consoles for Gas Dispatch and Gas Control were brought online.”

The elements of success

Despite the project’s complexity and tight deadline, it was completed on time and on budget. “Everyone involved really pulled together and did a great job,” says Zetron project manager, David Christy.

Veteran PSE engineer Robert Holt concurs. “Zetron was very good to work with,” he says. “They listened to what we needed, then provided it.”

The ease with which dispatchers adopted the new console equipment was yet another element of the project’s success. “We were able to design the Acom screens to mimic our old ones, so our dispatchers would be able to continue to react instinctively and automatically,” says Sykora. “This is especially important during an emergency.”

The system also offers benefits PSE administrators hadn’t anticipated. For example, it will allow them to integrate phones onto the console screens-an option they’re currently considering. And because ACOM is modular, they will be able to expand it easily as they grow. ACOM’s remote command-and-control capabilities will also allow PSE to run their system over laptops or PCs if the situation ever warrants it, giving them even greater flexibility to respond as circumstances dictate.

Regardless of how PSE utilizes the rich options their new ACOM system offers, it’s clear that it has updated and strengthened PSE’s communications capabilities and paved their way to the future. It has also added yet another success to PSE’s ongoing partnership with Zetron.

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