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May 29, 2017 Issue



Control Center Visualization Software creating Energy System Situational Awareness and helping Operators Respond to Critical Situations



Dr. Mike Legatt, Ph.D., CPT

Chief Executive Officer & Founder


ResilientGrid, Inc.


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – May 29, 2017


CEOCFO: Dr. Legatt, what is the concept behind ResilientGrid?

Dr. Legatt: As critical infrastructure is changing with trends like big data, the “Internet of Things” and so forth, one of the growing needs — but also growing weaknesses —  is the link between the human needs of operators and the computer systems they use to manage critical infrastructure. ResilientGrid combines human factors and software design to build systems to help people be more effective at their jobs, even as those jobs continue to get more challenging.


CEOCFO: What does that mean day-to-day?

Dr. Legatt: Day-to-day, operators in many different systems are under increasing pressure and feel strained from data overload, things happening faster and the awareness that an error or event can lead to public scrutiny very quickly. They are feeling under more pressure while the systems they use are becoming more complex. For example, in the energy space you have wind and solar and other types of generation coming on line, sensors that are transmitting more real-time information faster. That leads to more systems, that drive more user interfaces, that add more monitors on the desk and so on. To maintain the reliability of that infrastructure, operators have to continue to work harder as the system becomes more complex. We help them do their work more effectively.


CEOCFO: Would you give us an example of how this works?

Dr. Legatt: In critical infrastructure, a lot of what operators actually do is going from system-to-system and screen-to-screen and trying to piece together data to build information. For example, if you are in an electric power control room, you have systems that look at energy, market, and outages and there are systems that predict how the wind is going to blow and how the sun is going to shine. The challenge is the more pieces of data they must deal with, the more they are coming up against the limits of the human brain. If we build systems and infrastructure that rely on human beings to do all of the work of piecing the information together, we are taking away their capacity to deal with emergency situations or to see several steps ahead. We offer an integrated system — a “single pane of glass” where all of this information from all of these different systems flows into our system, and we create a visualization for the operator that is designed to be highly intuitive. This is where a lot of the human factor starts to come in. Everything from the design of colors to the kind of controls they can exert on the system and even the design decisions to understand that human beings are under stress when they are using it. That’s how we empower them to be more effective and to grow situational awareness — meaning they understand the big picture more intuitively and quickly. We also facilitate their collaboration between organizations or within their own organization. Basically, our goal is to set up each operator to be more successful at the work they’re already doing.


CEOCFO: Does it take long for an operator to become familiar and understand your software?

Dr. Legatt: No. We design our software by closely working with end-users to make sure they’re seeing the information they need to see, in a way they can quickly and intuitively comprehend it. We also test the software with new users to make sure there is a rapid learning curve, and build and test training to help quickly build the habits of using the software effectively.


The main challenge in a lot of these industries is that the systems that operators use are built by engineers who think like engineers. There is nothing wrong with thinking like an engineer — but managing a system in real-time and thinking like an engineer are usually mutually exclusive. The best analogy I could give is if you imagine you are driving a car -- you look at your GPS to tell you where you are on your route, and look at your speedometer to tell you how fast you are going. But imagine if, instead, you had to read each sensor in your car, looking at your oxygen intake sensor and the rotation of the tire sensors in each wheel and so forth. In that case, driving a car becomes a more complex activity. When you take your car to the shop, the people that look at your car are thinking like engineers and they need all of the sensor data to know if the car is functioning properly, but as the driver of the car you need something quite different.


CEOCFO: What made you embrace engineering?

Dr. Legatt: It is a funny story. It came down to doing laundry. Back in 2003 I was working on my psychology dissertation and like many grad students, ran out of clean clothes. I would take basket after basket down in my apartment in New York to do laundry. As I was putting the last coin in the last dryer and I pushed it in, the lights went out. I figured a circuit breaker had tripped, but it was August 2003 and it turned out to be the northeast blackout. As luck would have it, I lived about two miles away from the emergency operation center in Westchester County and I am a ham radio operator. I spent the evening in the emergency operation center relaying communications after the cell towers went down, internet backbones went down, and the telephone systems went down. The only way people could communicate now was relaying traffic through ham radio operators. As one of the net controls during the blackout, all that information flowed through me and my job was to direct it.


We saw a lot of crazy things like ambulance drivers who could talk by private radio channel to the dispatcher but the dispatcher could not talk to the hospital to figure out if they had the right equipment or beds. We had a children’s hospital that had kids on life support with an overloaded backup generator. They had no idea how to get emergency power.


Some months later the root cause analysis for the blackout was released, and it was caused predominantly by human factors, including the loss of situational awareness. You had operators who did not understand what was happening anymore in their systems and in some cases thought that they perfectly understood what was happening while the data was, in fact, not being updated. In other cases, it had to do with things like the way they trained managers and the way the organizations sent signals to the workers about what was important, which did not end up reflecting the things the organizations wanted the workers to do at the end of the day. These weaknesses came together, and the 2003 blackout occurred.


Reading that report, I knew I wanted to make my career working on these human factors in critical infrastructure. I spent a decade at ERCOT, Texas’ grid operator, as their principal human factors engineer, and completed a second PhD in energy systems engineering, wanting to continue to learn and find ways to better grow these human-systems interactions.


CEOCFO: Is ResilientGrid Map™ available today?

Dr. Legatt: It is available today, and we think of it (along with all our products) as continuously improving. We are working not only with electrical power companies but other critical infrastructure providers such as 911 operators, natural gas operations and so forth. Rather than having a tool that we are just going to say is done, we have a tool that we believe we have built to meet most of the needs of most critical infrastructure. Part of our value proposition is building strong relationships with our customers and when we find opportunities to enhance the tool to be better for whatever needs they have, that goes to benefit all the participants. For example, if a natural gas provider needs some new data handled or new visualization, everybody gets that benefit as well.


CEOCFO: Are people actively looking for a better way?

Dr. Legatt: Yes, they are looking for a better way. There are several forces creating pressure for this kind of new paradigm of software helping people. When you integrate more renewable energy into the grid one of the things that you will find is that your operators need to be monitoring the system much more closely. It is no longer the case that you just tell the power plants to do what you want them to do but now you also have wind or clouds or sun or other factors that you must be constantly monitoring. To maintain the system of higher and higher integration of renewables, you need your operators to be more situationally aware. The history of ResilientGrid Map™ is that it started as a tool called Macomber Map® that I wrote when I was at ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), the grid operator for most of Texas. ERCOT is one of the two grids in the US that have the highest levels of renewable integration. This past year, they broke their record, running over 50% of wind, and Southwest Power Pool is at about 53%. Both are both using the Macomber Map tool, which is helping them manage this hybrid power system.


Another need is the recognition that infrastructure protection needs — physical, cyber and financial — are continuing to grow. In order to respond you need people to understand the big picture much more rapidly and effectively so they can make better decisions about how to both harden the system and recover from potential challenges, whether they are manmade or natural.


There are also technological pushes. For example, more and more sensors are coming online and we start to see new kinds of things we never saw before that have given us understandings about what is going on behind the scenes such as sub-synchronous resonances. In order to understand that information in real-time, operators usually confront data that is so rich that it can be overwhelming. You are also seeing a new tech savvy millennial population coming out of graduate programs who have very different expectations and experience than the operators who have been in the industry for decades. For all of those reasons, these kinds of tools help not only individuals but organizations to be more effective.


CEOCFO: How are you reaching out?

Dr. Legatt: We are just getting started. A lot of our reach-out is around thought leadership and listening tours as we continue to grow to understand what the critical infrastructure market needs and then adjust to meet those needs. That is our approach.


CEOCFO: Are you looking for funding, partnerships or investment?

Dr. Legatt: We are in a convertible note round looking for investors. We are also open to the idea of partnerships. We have had lots of good collaborative relationships with entities across critical infrastructure sectors.


CEOCFO: Why pay attention to ResilientGrid?

Dr. Legatt: Because the world is changing. In the case of critical infrastructure, a lot of the growth in technology, of big data and automation, has wonderful potentials and I am excited about them. But I do see several unintended consequences about what the future of critical infrastructure will look like. With a changing infrastructure, you have both aging infrastructure and emerging infrastructure side-by-side. You have theories of management that are completely turning upside down.


For example, in electric power, you used to think about taking big power plants to push power over high voltage lines down to distribution into your home. Now you are thinking about homes with solar panels that might be pushing back up to the grid system and eventually maybe even moving to a world where there are fewer and fewer of those big power plants available. These changes rely more and more on human beings. 


As our critical infrastructure sectors become more and more efficient, deviations from optimal become more and more impactful. Put another way, as managing increasingly complex systems gets harder, what it means is that if we are successful we will be able to do things we could never do before, but if we are not successful we will fail much harder and faster. What we recognize is that the key differentiator between success and failure is not a technology, is not a device or even a policy, it is human beings in control rooms making decisions, in management positions making decisions, and planners making decisions about the future. Many of the reasons things go wrong boil down to human factors somewhere on the system. We are designed to try and improve the human factors side of this equation so that the people who are doing such a great job are set up to be even more successful.


“Imagine you are driving a car -- you look at your GPS to tell you where you are on your route, and look at your speedometer to tell you how fast you are going. But imagine if, instead, you had to read each sensor in your car, looking at your oxygen intake sensor and the rotation of the tire sensors in each wheel and so forth. In that case, driving a car becomes a more complex activity. When you take your car to the shop, the people that look at your car are thinking like engineers and they need all of the sensor data to know if the car is functioning properly, but as the driver of the car you need something quite different.”- Dr. Mike Legatt, Ph.D., CPT


ResilientGrid, Inc.



Michael Legatt

512-766-4743 x1000







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