Y2K-prepared utilities to execute contingency drills

Tami Cissna

Associate Editor

The Y2K spotlight in the electric power industry is now on contingency planning. Most utilities have completed inventory and have finished, or are nearing completion, of their major Y2K remediation efforts.

The President`s Council on Year 2000 Conversion is encouraging organizations to prepare two types of contingency plans. First, it stresses the need for organizations to develop plans that address internal system failures. For these plans, organizations need to be asking, and answering, key questions such as: If some of our internal systems fail, how will we continue our core business processes?

The second type of plan addresses potential for failures in external systems which organizations depend on for day-to-day activities. These systems run the gamut from those providing basic services-such as telecommunications, water and power-to those supporting activities of key vendors or suppliers. Organization heads need to ask themselves: What are our critical external dependencies? Are any of those dependencies likely to have problems? How will we function if they do?

Extensive coordination is taking place within the NERC Regions, and most utilities appear committed to NERC`s Y2K contingency planning guide and the implementation schedule. Each region recently prepared a final report on contingency plans at both the operating company and regional level. NERC planned to announce the status of these reports Jan. 8.

NERC is now preparing to coordinate two Y2K drills. The first exercise will be a communications and people drill to see how well the industry operates with limited communications facilities, said Gene Gorzelnik, NERC communications director. This “simulated” drill, scheduled April 9, 1999 (99th day of 1999), is a “walk-through” exercise to prepare individual entities for potential Y2K-related mishaps.

For example, if a utility lost the data stream from the substation-how will it get the information it needs? Does it have an alternative means of getting information to the control center? If information is obtained in person, do the individuals know where the facility is? Do they know how to get in? Do they know where the meters are, or how to read the meters? Do they have adequate communications equipment for passing information back?

The second, more extensive drill includes placing electric systems in a ready condition, and making a simulated transition into the Year 2000. It is scheduled Sept. 8-9, 1999 (rollover to 9/9/99). More details will become available about this drill later.

Gorzelnik said NERC does not anticipate significant date-related problems on either of the drill days chosen. Should there be problems, however, it will be convenient to have key people already on hand.

Everyone in the electric power is taking Y2K seriously, Gorzelnik said, but NERC would like more individual utilities and power suppliers to meet its milestones.

Of immediate concern is the inventory phase, which had an October 1998 deadline. While most have completed their inventory, some still have not finished this step-the first of three phases in NERC`s Y2K-readiness plan. “If we`re going to be ready, we need to have everyone meet those dates,” Gorzelnik said.

Some companies hesitate to claim completion of their inventory because they continue finding glitches, but inventory completion simply means completion to date, he said. “Inventory will never be at the 100 percent level, but let`s get as close to that 100 percent level as we can get.”

Timely completion of inventory is necessary to get the last stages accomplished before year`s end. “We do not want to have major projects going in September and October, and then find out everything is not going to be complete,” Gorzelnik said. “Overall, the industry is in good shape. But we cannot let down our guard at all.”

The Y2K disclosure bill, which passed in October, helped facilitate better information sharing among the few utilities still reluctant to share information, he said. The bill provides limited liability protection for specific types of Year 2000 information considered essential to remediation efforts.

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