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A new adventure: Mapping OPPD’s future with GIS

March 18, 2024 | Grant Schulte | OPPD at work, OPPD employees, powerful life
Dave Stock, OPPD's manager of Geospatial Technology and Design Support, is leading an effort to strengthen OPPD’s electric grid and serve customers using GIS data.
Dave Stock, OPPD’s manager of Geospatial Technology and Design Support, is leading an effort to strengthen OPPD’s electric grid and serve customers using GIS data. Photo courtesy of Dave Stock

Dave Stock has dodged tornadoes, slogged through alligator-filled bayous and trudged through sloppy mud miles from the nearest road.

Gathering GIS mapping data for pipelines wasn’t the easiest job, but it helped lay the foundation for what would become Stock’s newest mission: Finding new, innovative ways to strengthen OPPD’s electric grid and serve customers using data.

Stock, the manager of Geospatial Technology and Design Support at OPPD, is leading an effort to make the utility savvier and more efficient with GIS technology. Applied creatively, GIS data has the potential to reduce outages, minimize storm damage and anticipate customer needs before they arise.

“It shows us where we can invest in our system to reach the kind of resiliency we’re after,” Stock said.

So what is GIS?

A geographic information system is a system that manages, analyzes and maps all types of data. GIS helps identify patterns by combining location and descriptive information – the location and age of power lines, for instance, or the intensity and footprint of major storms.

Think about a spreadsheet. All you see are numbers. But view it on an illustrated GIS map, and the information comes to life. You can see the data, experiment with it, pinpoint areas of weakness and respond accordingly.

To be clear, OPPD already uses some GIS data to track assets in the field. Stock’s job is to seek new answers to crucial questions: How can GIS improve reliability? Can it help mitigate risks? And what data are the most important?

With GIS modeling, OPPD can examine previous tornado patterns, average wind speeds and other information to better understand why circuits fail during storms. Heat maps can highlight aging infrastructure. Vegetation maps can show overgrown trees near power lines. Overlay that information with a map of critical customers – hospitals, airports, schools – and trends start to emerge.

“All of a sudden, you clearly understand where you need to focus,” Stock said. “It’s all about how you can put it together and create a visualization that fits your specific need.”

Using GIS data to problem-solve

Stock gained some of his GIS experience at Black Hills Energy, where he worked in operations and GIS technology before rising to managerial roles. While working, he took night classes at the University of Nebraska Omaha to earn a geography degree with an emphasis in GIS.

He enjoyed the work, but the fast-growing electric industry caught his attention. OPPD, in particular, was a community pillar in his native Omaha with a strong history of public service.

Now, Stock is constantly learning more about OPPD to see how GIS data can help, whether it’s through new efficiencies or creative ways to solve a problem.

Consider OPPD’s network of LED streetlights. With a GIS map, OPPD could see which lights are nearing the end of their service life and plan ahead for when they need to be replaced.

“Each month or year, we can better predict ordering trends and where we need to spend our money for the stock we need to have on hand,” Stock said. “That’s important because, a lot of times, you need equipment but it’s not available right away. It may be months or years before manufacturers can provide it.”

A variety of uses

GIS can also help OPPD prioritize where to spend its limited resources for the biggest benefit. It could assist in tracking equipment across OPPD’s system, letting workers know when items need to be replaced.

More broadly, GIS could show, in a clear, understandable manner, how quickly demand for electricity is growing in OPPD’s service territory. Or how swiftly electrical vehicle stations have arisen nationwide and where they might appear next, which could help OPPD anticipate future customer needs.

“Dave brings a very unique worldview and experiences that you don’t find often,” said Shane Hanson, director of engineering for OPPD. “I’m really excited to see him use those skills to transform the way we use GIS in all manners of work at OPPD.”

Being uncomfortable

In work and life, Stock follows a simple ethos: Always be uncomfortable. Think bigger, and stretch. His willingness to try new things has landed him jobs as a firefighter, EMT and conservation photographer in Africa.

“People can be a leader in any position,” he said. “You just have to think outside the box and be innovative, find new ways to do things.”

For years, Stock walked huge stretches of land – entire states sometimes – to map and inspect pipelines for Subsurface Solutions, a private company that serves natural gas utilities. In the bayous of Louisiana and Arkansas, he encountered alligators and venomous snakes.

Before joining OPPD, Stock walked huge stretches of land to gather GIS data for Subsurface Solutions.
Before joining OPPD, Dave Stock walked huge stretches of land to map and inspect pipelines for Subsurface Solutions. Photo courtesy of Dave Stock

Stock walked from Texas to Minnesota, across frozen rivers and creeks, through cornfields and mud. Once, he found himself about 100 feet from a passing tornado.

“It’s challenging in a lot of ways,” he said. “When it’s raining, when it’s snowing, you’re out there. You could be walking through a blizzard. Sometimes you’d be in the middle of Oklahoma, with no cellphone reception, 10 miles from the nearest road.”

Stock went to school for photography at Metropolitan Community College, learning both traditional film and digital methods. He photographed philanthropic events for Metro Magazine, a local publication.

Through a high school classmate, he connected with a conservation group. In 2010, he photographed conservation efforts in Madagascar for the Madagascar Biodiversity Project and Conservation Fusion, both affiliated with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. He also ran for Congress in 2002 in Nebraska’s 2nd District, which includes the Omaha area.

In his free time, Stock hikes and camps and kayaks. He enjoys trips to Indian Cave State Park as well as the Colorado and Wyoming mountains. In his yard, he cultivates 250 different varieties of grass, trees and bushes.

He attributes his passion for nature to his parents and lessons he learned about soil health and microorganisms at the University of Nebraska.

Stock is also active in both his homeowners’ association and sanitary improvement district.

Helping others

“The Midwest is different from a lot of other areas,” Stock said. “People help each other out, and I don’t want to see that go away. Being a part of OPPD means I can have a bigger impact and keep some of those things alive, because the services we provide are huge.”

That drive to serve, solve problems and help others keeps him forging ahead to the next challenge.

“I’m just really excited about OPPD’s vision and what they’re doing in the community,” Stock said. “The growth we’re going to be seeing over the next several years is really exciting.”


Dave Stock photographed conservation efforts in Madagascar for the Madagascar Biodiversity Project and Conservation Fusion, both affiliated with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.
Dave Stock photographed conservation efforts in Madagascar for the Madagascar Biodiversity Project and Conservation Fusion, both affiliated with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. Photos courtesy of Dave Stock
A marketplace in Madagascar.
A marketplace in Madagascar. Photo courtesy of Dave Stock
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About Grant Schulte

Grant Schulte joined OPPD as a content generalist in 2022. He is a former reporter for The Associated Press, where he covered the Nebraska Legislature, state politics and other news for a global audience. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and a proud Hawkeye. In his free time he enjoys running, reading, spending time with his wife, and all things aviation.

View all posts by Grant Schulte >

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