Following the success of its response to Hurricane Sandy, BPA is working with other power marketing agencies and the Department of Energy to establish protocols for future deployments during times of national emergency.
Hurricane Sandy response showed agency’s capabilities as well as the vital importance of power restorationIn the wake of its Hurricane Sandy disaster response, BPA has cemented its role as an asset in a time of national emergency.“Moving forward, we expect that we will be called to service again – it is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when,’” said Anita Decker, BPA chief operating officer. “It’s unlikely to be every disaster, but on a ‘national need’ basis, so we need to be prepared. Our folks who responded demonstrated great professionalism and expertise. The word got around, which is a real positive for our reputation as federal workers.”This new reality for the public power marketing agencies, such as BPA, became even clearer during two recent meetings on utilities and disaster responses – including one with the President of the United States. Decker met in Washington, D.C., with Department of Energy Acting Secretary Dan Poneman, sister agency Western Area Power Administration and executives from 30 utilities around the nation May 8 to discuss lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy and to anticipate possible support during the upcoming hurricane season.President Barack Obama attended the meeting to convey not only his thanks for the Sandy response but also to articulate the critical role of utilities and PMAs in their mission to restore power.“The president discussed that, in the wake of major disasters like Hurricane Sandy, extended power outages can have major impacts on communities and recovery efforts, and that beyond the lifesaving and life sustaining efforts that are the immediate priority in any response, one of the most important steps is power restoration,” the White House said in a statement on the event. Power restoration proved a herculean task following Hurricane Sandy that affected 26 states, seven countries, 8.5 million electric customers and roughly 56 million people – or 18 percent of the U.S. population. More than 65,000 utility and utility support personnel responded in the wake of the storm.The Washington, D.C., meeting focused on actions each utility and PMA could take to encourage proactive readiness from a policy perspective, such as regulatory and legislative changes or communication procedures between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, DOE, PMAs and utilities. Meanwhile, the next day, May 9, both PMA and DOE personnel met in Denver to discuss more specific preparations by the PMA organizations for future response to large-scale events.“The meeting gave us a chance to meet with our counterparts from the other PMAs and DOE headquarters, laying a foundation for how we can integrate into FEMA assignments while maintaining our readiness for events in our own backyard,” said Christy Munro, BPA chief security and continuity officer. “BPA is committed to being ready, both for the Northwest and the nation.”The group identified a broad range of areas that needed improvement or clear guidance. These included everything from the process for deploying PMAs as a resource to the identification of skill sets and training for deployment to the best practices for tracking resources in the field.“As Sandy showed us, there are layers upon layers of logistical, financial and communication issues that must be handled during a response – both from a responder standpoint and the support functions at the field office and headquarters level,” Munro said. “Tackling those questions now will only improve our performance when called upon.” Moving forward, this group will continue to create the process and protocols by which PMAs respond to a nation in need.“Hurricane Sandy was the first time BPA had been called to action at the federal level to respond to a national emergency,” Decker said. “We’ve learned a lot from that incident, and our people and resources will be even better positioned to build on our success and help out in future events.”