COVID-19 and the ensuing global shutdown have revealed a critical need for organizations everywhere to address contingency planning. Lack of preparedness, failure to execute emergency responses and an inability to adapt have already cost some companies deeply. Critical power system owners and operators are emerging from the shutdown with a newfound dedication to crisis mitigation and a focus on building robust contingency strategies that include more than emergency generator load testing.
Millions of Americans rely on power plants and substations across the nation for work, entertainment, and to maintain a connected and digitally accessible lifestyle. When the drastic shift to telecommuting happened, companies, power plants, and data centers were tested to create effective remote work environments, handle vast amounts of data being uploaded to the cloud, and maintain consistent power during a large influx of need. As some parts of the nation are reopening and companies are transitioning to a new normal, owners and operators can reflect on how their facility managed the crisis and leverage what they learned to prepare for the future.
The unpredictable nature of crises makes it vital to proactively enhance and develop contingency plans to minimize risk and reduce downtime. Contingency planning is not just about lessening the likelihood of outages and conducting emergency generator load tests, it is also about limiting damages, restoring power, and becoming better equipped for the future. Here are several steps you can take to ensure your critical power system has the necessary contingency plans in place.
Conduct a Contingency Plan Gap Analysis
Take inventory of your facility’s current contingency plans to identify what gaps exist. Even the most basic contingency plans should account for common emergencies, such as:
- Natural disasters and extreme weather common to the location (earthquake, tornado, flooding, etc.)
- Equipment failures
- Sustained high demand
- Cyber threats and attacks
- Man-made disasters (biowarfare, bombing, shooting, etc.)
- Then consider all other situations that could impact your facility, like a pandemic, and all of the associated scenarios that could take place. For example, do you have processes for maintaining power if workers cannot be on-site or if your workforce is drastically reduced? North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is an excellent resource to analyze your contingency planning efforts and make sure they are up to reliability standards.
- Periodic Maintenance & Load Bank TestingStrong and thorough maintenance processes are the only way to keep a consistent record of how your facility is operating. Regularly assessing the performance of each component and the system as a whole provides valuable insight into equipment functionality and can prevent system failures. To make your preventative maintenance plan as effective as possible, implement regular load testing at your facility to monitor the various electrical components and backup systems. Leveraging load banks during load testing improves system reliability because it offers flexibility and control over testing, allowing you to set repeatable parameters and ensure testing is conducted the same each time. Additionally, load bank testing allows you to fully energize your entire system and mimic real-life scenarios to understand how your facility will run at maximum performance and how your back up system will react in an emergency.
- Establish a Relationship with Mutual Aid NetworksContingency planning should always include worst-case scenario procedures, which in some cases may include irreparable damage to equipment and facilities and potential loss of life. Entities such as the Edison Electric Institute and the Regional Mutual Assistance Group coalition exist to help facilitate the rapid deployment of needed resources to the power grid in times of emergency. These networks allow impacted utilities to supplement their own resources with additional trained personnel and equipment, all provided by electric utilities from across the United States.
- Maintain Spare InventoryKeeping an inventory of key components and equipment on hand is an important and effective step to minimize downtime during an emergency. If you do keep spare inventory onsite, build in processes to maintain that equipment to ensure it is able to perform when needed. Federal programs including Spare Transformer Equipment Program (STEP), SpareConnect, Grid Assurance, and RESTORE (Regional Equipment Sharing for Transmission Outage) are resources to acquire spare parts in the event of an emergency.
- Implement Emergency DrillsMake periodic emergency exercises part of facility procedures to ensure staff is prepared for crisis intervention. Use these drills as an opportunity to demonstrate how staff would respond to and recover from potential cyberattacks or natural disasters. Running through your contingency plans consistently helps strengthen and develop your organization’s emergency response capabilities.
- Invest in CybersecurityCybercriminals won’t hesitate to exploit or engineer a crisis. While new technologies help make use of data and automated control capabilities to manage the grid, cybercriminals are becoming more knowledgeable about how to exploit these potential points of access. Grid operators must conduct an analysis and deploy their own appropriate mitigation techniques to protect their unique information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) networks.
As a key partner to major energy providers and local distribution networks around the globe, Comrent is a worldwide leader in load bank testing solutions. Our team of load bank experts is available 24/7 to help you prepare for what the future holds. Contact us today to receive a complimentary consultation for a customized load testing plan for your facility.