As experts in the energy industry, we are familiar with the cascading events caused by unexpected disturbances on the grid that trigger almost every blackout. Unfortunately, we are becoming more familiar with a different kind of cascading event: Natural disasters such as wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes that provoke flooding, heatwaves, and landslides that often affect electricity service.
Now, in addition to events that have a direct impact on the physical infrastructure of the grid or the cybersecurity of its networks, we must reckon with a virus that can impact the welfare of the mission-critical workers in the field and control rooms around the world. We’re depending on these people to continue working around the clock to help keep further cascading of this virus at bay.
COVID-19 is a novel virus, but the situation facing utilities is anything but new. Our electric utility clients around the world are prepared for disasters. It’s in the DNA of any mission-critical service provider.
When it comes to our electricity service, we traditionally have mostly thought of storm-centric planning. But utilities have matured their emergency practices to endure any ‘storm.’ From weather to cyberattacks to earthquakes, utilities have documented Emergency Preparedness & Response and Business Continuity Plans to respond to such emergencies.
Additionally, there are national and regional bodies that help the electric power industry coordinate their efforts to prepare for, and respond to, national-level disasters or threats to critical infrastructure. In the US, for example, the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) acts as a liaison between the federal government and electric utilities to be ready for and mitigate such events.
Keeping safety first
Safety is also in the DNA of every electric utility. That’s why many have isolated their grid operators during this pandemic from all support staff. They continue to regularly disinfect their control rooms. Some have moved to longer shifts to help minimize contact. In some of the more hard-hit areas of the US, many are also preparing now in case they are called to shelter in place later by bringing in cots and stocking up on essentials. Others have gone a step further with workers now living at grid control centers as part of a voluntary sequestration.
In response to COVID-19, utility software vendors are also showing support. ABB is offering its digital solutions free-of-charge through 2020. GE has announced free remote-access licenses for its utility EMS and SCADA customers.
We’re in this together
PSC consultants continue to reliably provide operational services on-site at many of our utility clients’ locations where and when they need us. We’re all pitching in to make sure this pandemic doesn’t cascade from a public health crisis to an electric service emergency.
Please contact us for more information on how PSC can help.