Power utilities are typically among the most well-prepared organizations when it comes to emergencies. My experience in the energy industry is that utilities take their public safety concerns very seriously.
Those concerns are taking on an enhanced effort with the coronavirus. A major electric grid organization, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), is asking utilities to recheck their business continuity plans in the face of the virus.
Aside from the basic public precautions – washing hands, etc. – what actions will be taken?
Supply chain: In other words, equipment needed to keep everything running. “Because China and nearby southeast Asian nations have been impacted the supply chain hits will likely include electronics, personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies, chemicals, and raw materials,” said NERC in a news story. It also warned of global transportation disruptions – just getting parts to the final location could be tough.
Personnel: The pandemic could affect the skilled people running the electric system. ” It is predicted that a large percentage of a company’s employees (up to 40 percent) could be out sick, quarantined, or might stay home to care for sick family members.” (Source) It is more than just the power company itself: “Recognize that a pandemic outbreak affecting the organization will also have similar effects on third-party contractors and supporting resources in the same footprint.” (Source)
Project priorities: If hardware or people are in a shortage, getting projects done might take a hit. NERC advises utilities to have a priority list of projects ready to go so the most important happen first if there is a crunch. What has to be done to keep the lights on in the near-term?
Cyber risk: NERC also asked utilities be on-guard for cyberattacks. Criminals take advantage of the panic and using “coronavirus-themed opportunistic social engineering attacks” to hack into power companies’ networks. Consumers should also be aware of calls and emails that try to look or sound like your power company but may actually be from a hacker.
Utilities are accustomed to managing emergencies. The public can be assured that utilities also work together during an emergency to make sure there is the best possible power reliability.