Continuity of Operations: the Covid-informed small rural utility

Today, even small, rural utilities and microgrids must implement their Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs). However, many are realizing that the threat of a global pandemic ranked low in initial threat assessments compared to earthquakes and tsunamis. Conversations among operations managers and utility leadership in virtual meeting rooms echo references to Continuity of Operation Plans (COOP) and what their peers are doing. It’s no small feat to determine what extreme measures should be put in place to prepare for the uncertainty before them.

Operations managers are asking questions and expressing concerns about the efficacy of their COOP if they haven’t specifically planned for a pandemic. Or how to operate safely and ensure standard procedures could present undue exposure risk to small rural communities?

Though COVID-19’s worse impacts have not yet reached most rural places, 60Hertz offers these top  5 considerations for utilities facing an activation of a response or operation under their COOP.

1) Ramp up leadership and response staff early. It’s difficult to determine when to implement your COOP plans. Many rural utilities and remote microgrids operate day to day within resource stricken and costly logistical environments. Transitioning into a continuity of operations posture takes time and resources. An early transition ensures your leadership team has time to conduct threat assessments, use/test equipment, identify resource gaps and develop plans which will smooth the transition. Ask and answer these types of questions:

  • How will your utility continue to support significant maintenance in the midst of lock downs?
  • How do you in real time increase the capabilities of real operators?
  • How do you determine an essential staff list?
  • How do you ensure part time workers can support remote operations?
  • What processes and procedures need to be adjusted to reflect the current situation of COVID-19? Perhaps reduction of travel of skilled labor to reduce risk of exposure to rural communities.

2) When to fully implement your COOP. As many small rural operators are trying to determine when to implement their COOP, 60Hertz’s suggestion is to look to your local governments. If your governments have activated their Incident Command System, then it’s prudent that your utility do the same.

3) Maintaining situational awareness and a consistent planning cycle. Your COOP plan and your Emergency Operation Plan will provide appropriate frameworks to guide your new operations. By leveraging these frameworks you can efficiently maintain situational awareness which will allow your leadership staff and front line workers the ability to problem solve and update the chain of command appropriately.

4) Be innovative. As your team problem solves, it’s a good time to remind them to think out of the box – perhaps consider how digital tools can increase local capacity, maintain situational awareness and share information efficiently about challenges in real time. Lean on your maintenance management software in ways you hadn’t thought of before.

5) Think about current tools in a new way. 60Hertz has been thinking hard about how our maintenance management software be used in new ways. We’ve had conversations around reducing the necessity to have skilled labor visit sites, therefore reducing risk of exposure to rural communities. Also we’ve thoughts and discussed concerns around the isolated power plant operator and have questioned what we can do through our maintenance software to support them. We are boldly looking for partnership with multi-site operators who would like to engage to optimize both their site and protect their people during this pandemic.

Please be encouraged to reach out to us, join our thought partnership to leverage digital tools to meet today’s challenges.

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