Six steps toward continuity in the face of disaster

Ben Levitan, EnvoyWorldWide

To say the least, utilities were not left unscathed by the summer heat and the August blackout. With investigations pending and wide scale calls for improvements to the nation’s power grid, electric power delivery providers must to be prepared to remain in operation during any sort of incident–from a grid collapse to a system outage caused by weather, attack or over-consumption.

Now is the time to take action and make certain that disruptions don’t advance into catastrophic outages. Fortunately, new technologies and common sense can be coupled to help this happen. Here are six steps to help you prepare.

“- Develop, test and fund a realistic business continuity plan. Test it–regularly. This may seem obvious, but recent studies have shown that many companies rarely blow the dust off of their business continuity binder. It’s imperative to have buy-in from finance as well–a recent Gartner report showed that nearly one-third of companies with business continuity plans couldn’t adequately fund them.

“- Become a partner for your key customers’ disaster recovery plans. The recent northeast blackouts affected 76 percent of major U.S. companies. In the wake of the blackouts, 63 percent of companies have said they were either planning to create a new disaster recovery plan, or update their existing one, according to the InfoTech Research Group. Major businesses will look to their power delivery providers as a key partner in business continuity.

“- Coordinate efforts with local, state and national authorities. Unfortunately, there is not a national infrastructure in place to make certain that warnings are delivered to the right people at the right time; part of a business continuity plan has to include systems to make certain that consistent warnings are sent to key personnel across these bodies.

“- Implement interactive alerting technologies. Major utilities like Alliant Energy and Southern California Edison are using notification technologies that can deliver imperative and time-sensitive messages to key personnel by any means necessary–via landline or cell phone, fax, email, pager or SMS device. These notification services can be leveraged to avert disaster, initiate a curtailment effort or even, account for employees. According to AMR Research’s Jill Feblowitz, “Some areas, such as New England, have these technologies in place and were able to isolate themselves from the grid and avoid a blackout.”

“- Keep contact information for key personnel current. Regularly check and update this information and make it available at a moment’s notice. This burden can be offloaded by combining a notification solution that offers self-registration capabilities to have contacts maintain their own information.

“- Keep a well-stocked command center. Stockpile food, potable water and flashlights for command center staff.

The technology and methodologies exist for power delivery providers to prepare for any emergency. They key is preparing now, by coordinating a repeatable approach with key customers and local, regional and national authorities.

Levitan is the CEO of EnvoyWorldWide, a Boston-based vendor that provides utility companies with notification technologies. He can be contacted at blevitan@envoyworldwide.com.

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