Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Planning for Cascading Critical Infrastructure Impacts Amidst Extreme Heat

Headlines such as “Heat and humidity sticks around” and “Heat wave may be worst in state’s history” remain prevalent in news publications across the United States (US) as the seemingly endless summer heat continues. This lingering extreme heat continues to place excessive strain on the nation’s electricity grid. Thankfully, none of the potential widespread blackouts estimated early in the summer have come to fruition; however, the situation remains serious as previous excessive heat events have led to cascading impacts and even cost lives. The nation’s critical infrastructure sectors are dependent on electricity to operate, and the hottest month of July on record in world history has drawn attention to the need for greater grid resilience.

Extreme heat-induced power outages can have rapid cascading impacts, including rolling blackouts, temporary government requests to reduce energy usage and outages. As a result, critical infrastructure partners begin feeling the heat in more ways than one. When the public relies on critical services to survive, managing cascading impacts on health services, cooling centers, and water facilities becomes increasingly important.

Recognizing the myriad of impacts, utilities, and critical infrastructure organizations are faced with challenging questions: what can be done to keep the power on and keep homes cool? What can be done to stop the cycle of impacts once they have started? As energy providers and the public sector consider the demands of extreme weather events, answering these questions is more critical than ever. In our work to help clients answer these questions, Hagerty has found three approaches to effectively manage risks.

Establishing Private-Public Relationships

In our experience working with government entities and investor-owned utilities, a lack of pre-established communication channels and response protocols can quickly hamper a response. It can be challenging for utilities to maintain contacts within their own industries, and engaging with partners in other critical infrastructure sectors adds more complexity. During the initial response, every moment counts, and knowing who to contact, when to contact them, and what to ask for can make all the difference for entities such as a public power utility, an investor-owned gas distributor, or a public agency. The relationship between public and private partners is particularly important for the energy sector, as most of the nation’s energy infrastructure is owned and operated by private companies.

Through a variety of work with utilities and government agencies, Hagerty has helped clients initiate or solidify and expand relationships between organizations to support crucial conversations and partnerships. Our experience demonstrates that using pre-established energy emergency plans can help improve an organization’s ability to respond to an incident. The level of support can be scaled to meet each organization’s unique needs.

Hagerty has worked with state energy offices to address operational coordination and communication with asset owners and operators and has helped an investor-owned utility tackle policy challenges impacting utilities and government partners in the region, such as establishing restoration priorities between gas, electricity, and government partners. These partnerships, whether formal or informal, help organizations identify potential impacts to critical infrastructure and plan for ways to reduce both direct and cascading impacts.

Identifying Potential Impacts

Solidifying relationships between infrastructure and government partners may lead to new discoveries around impacts on your operations. Identifying the root cause of multiple cascading impacts can be difficult, especially when impacts are occurring across multiple sectors with limited communication. For many organizations, it can be easy to assume that the problem exists within its own universe, but often, the impacts carry great implications for the ability of other sectors to perform critical services.

The identification of these impacts ahead of an event and in the early stages of an incident is crucial to minimizing the potential cascading impacts. Utilities and energy sector stakeholders can utilize new and enhanced public-private partnerships and other sector relationships to identify hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities to plan for these events before they happen.

With our clients, Hagerty has seen first-hand the benefits of using industry relationships, private-public partnerships, and relationships outside of the energy sector to identify and prepare for potential impacts to critical infrastructure. We have helped clients build an understanding of the risks to critical partners outside of their immediate span of control. Hagerty’s team of industry experts can help organizations with analysis to identify threats, risks, and vulnerabilities within existing plans and processes and facilitate stakeholder working groups to identify and prioritize solutions.

Preparing for Potential Impacts

Identifying and mapping direct and secondary cascading impacts is only the first step. Plan revision, socialization, training, and exercises are necessary to ensure utilities have not only recognized impacts but know how to effectively respond to them. However, when plans are not updated and socialized within an organization and among key partners, the uncertainty following a critical incident only multiplies.

Prioritization of planning, training, and exercising is recommended for critical infrastructure organizations and is a key component of business resilience and preparedness and can be accomplished through:

  • Reviewing existing plans and developing new language or hazard-specific annexes;
  • Socializing plans through workshops or plan-specific training events; and
  • Conducting plan-specific exercises to highlight plan successes and identify any gaps.

By developing a robust planning, training, and exercise program, electric utilities and other critical infrastructure agencies can increase their own resilience and the critical lifelines that depend upon them.

Hagerty Can Help

Hagerty’s energy sector team is no stranger to helping energy and critical infrastructure providers assess their organization’s preparedness for extreme heat and other threats to industry and community resilience.  Our team’s experience spans working with state energy offices to develop State Energy Security Plans, to partnering with investor-owned utilities to develop policy working groups, executive exercises, and organization-wide exercises. As organizations lean into strengthening their organizational preparedness and resilience, Hagerty can support these programs.

Marina Conner is a Managing Associate with seven years of experience in emergency preparedness specializing in incident command, accreditation, as well as planning, training, and exercises in both educational and practical settings. Currently, she is supporting clients with a range of state, local, and energy resiliency projects.