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Visual tools for BP's crisis managers

A Web-based tool combining 3-D satellite imagery and real-time weather data helps crisis managers at energy company BP make quicker, better decisions.

By Mary K. Pratt
July 28, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Brian Autio has to predict Mother Nature so his employer, energy giant BP PLC, knows how to react.

For years, Autio, BP's geospatial team lead for the Gulf of Mexico, used a mishmash of tools -- from satellite images to paper wall maps dotted with pushpins -- to accomplish his work.

His system got the job done, but it was cumbersome. There was clearly room for improvement. "It's just a very intense process, and it lends itself perfectly to technology," Autio says.

He and his colleagues now have a more advanced way to help them do their jobs: BP's Crisis Management System. It uses 3-D satellite imagery, real-time weather data, and a visual representation of the company's workers, their homes and corporate assets to deliver a truly visual assessment of what's happening where. The Web-based tool enables the Houston-based crisis team, top management in the U.K. and executives around the world to view the same information in real time, helping them improve their decision-making capabilities.

Weather Watch

"Having these more advanced kind of tools is bringing a lot of value to storm management," says Bradley Williams, an energy and utilities analyst at Gartner Inc. "It's basically being able to assess the situation and respond much quicker, because you're able to pull all that information together, assess the damage and prioritize response."

BP had been moving toward the development of its Crisis Management System for several years. The company already had high-tech tools like satellite feeds and mapping systems to help track and manage events.

However, the pieces didn't always work together. Autio says he would spend three or four hours before a planning meeting manually pulling data from up to 20 databases and Web-based sources. But BP officials didn't have a lot of time when a disaster like a hurricane was barreling down on the company's workers and assets.

"There was a lot of pressure to get something done quickly, and it had to be right," Autio says.

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