Power Blackout: Mark Your Calendars!

Why do the managers and employees of our electrical energy companies always seem to be taken by surprise when catastrophic events black out the power grid?

In retrospect, so many of their improvised responses seem feckless. Who can forget the awkward attempts of the Japanese military to drop giant buckets of water from helicopters on the Fukushima nuclear power plants?

And what of Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy during the blizzard of Fall 2011? He demanded that utility executives meet their own self-defined deadline in the aftermath of the storm, and then reacted with frustration when they failed to do so.

If you have felt enraged by the inability of the power companies to plan for such events, you’ll be pleased to learn that they are taking steps to address these challenges. For instance, on November 13, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) will conduct a simulation exercise called GridEx to practice its planned response to a massive cyber security attack.

Simulation exercises, of course, are not always constructive planning activities. Some of these protocols, such as the one that Tokyo’s Tama Zoo utilizes to practice its responses to dangerous animal escapes, have become exercises in silliness. But a serious simulation activity can help any organization identify weaknesses in its own emergency response plans.

In fact, the risk response planning process is a core activity of the COSO integrated framework of Enterprise Risk Management. It’s embedded in the front of COSO’s iconic cube as the fifth of eight core steps.

So on November 13, if you hear a news update about a power blackout, please don’t panic … it’s just a drill! And in fact, it will likely help the electrical energy companies respond to a crisis during the next monster storm.