Energy Assurance Emergency Planning

The following article, by our State Plans Officer, Kerry L. Kimble, CEM, with the Colorado Division of Emergency Management previously appeared in the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Bulletin.


Energy Assurance Emergency Planning

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy released funds  to selected cities as well as each State and territory with the goal of reinvigorating the update (or initiating the development) of Energy Assurance Emergency Plan.  These plans are to stress the importance that states “need to work closely in planning and coordinating energy assurance efforts with the energy industries and other units of government in their state and region.  It is the energy industry that will first respond to a disruption in their supply.  If they can manage the disruption, and reduce the consequences, then actions by the states and locals may not be as critical.”

“However, in a major disaster, when the disruption threatens the public health safety or welfare, or when the energy industry turns to a state or local government for assistance, that is when these energy assurance plans are intended to be used.  In addition, efforts to protect critical energy infrastructure and build its resilience is the goal of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan” .


Within Colorado, the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) has partnered with the Public Utility Commission and the Division of Emergency Management in an effort to encompass the energy industry with the emergency management community, who is responsible for dealing with eth consequences when an extended interruption occurs.  The overall process has also involved meetings with stakeholders, conducting an intra-state and inter-state tabletop exercises, culminating in a validated energy assurance plan.

As a result of such large-scale incidents as the 1973 Oil Embargo, the 2003 northeast blackout, 2008 Hurricane Gustav, people’s lives are negatively impacted.  While the energy industry mobilizes to restore lifelines, the emergency management community responds to mitigate the cascading effects of the interruption.  Some of these effects could be: (1) need for temporary sheltering / housing; (2) medical treatment (for example chemotherapy); (3) eight-hour battery life on home care units; (4) non-access to needed drugs; (5) transport of feed for livestock;  (6) and many others.

Besides affecting the immediate impact area, disasters can also disrupt individual facilities which can have a regional or national impact.  Over the years, many critical facilities have acquired back-up generators to deal with potential electrical disruptions.  However, how many times have these generators been tested or have failed when needed?  In June 2010, an electrical sub-station exploded.  This sub-station was the direct feed for a local hospital.  Their back-up generator immediately kicked in and subsequently failed.  This resulted in the immediate evacuation of the hospital’s critical-care patients, which was coordinated through the County’s emergency management office.

If a situation like this were more widespread, the GEO partnership has worked to develop a recommended draft prioritization list of critical infrastructure facilities that need to be restored if power can not returned within a reasonable amount of time.  (Our definition of reasonable amount of time is 4-6 hours.)  Generally, it appears that this floating window is appropriate before Emergency Management gets involved in the prioritization process.  Recognizing that government can not dictate to the utilities when and what areas are to be fixed.  But, through our mutual partnership, with the goal of serving the public, suggestions / recommendations can be made.  The selection of the 4 – 6 hour timeframe was based upon the fact that home life support systems typically have 8 – 12 hours of battery life, so that requires some lead time to get needed power to a particular geographic location before the batteries run out of electrical power.  If electricity can not be restored, then maybe a portable generator can be used.

The top ten priorities could be:
  1. Level I, II, and III Trauma Centers
  2. Acute care facilities
  3. 911 Dispatch Centers
  4. Burn centers
  5. Surgical Centers and Urgent Care Centers
  6. Food cold storage warehouses
  7. Water/Wastewater treatment facilities
  8. Fueling stations 
  9. Emergency medical transport facilities 
  10. Fire stations
The unique aspect of this process was the inclusion of the new Smart Grid and Distributed Generation technologies.  Since these are more network centric, they are more susceptible to cyber attack.  So, these human-caused incidents could be more destructive than natural hazard incidents resulting in a more potentially longer-lasting outage.

End Result

Ultimately, the planning effort will be twofold:  first, the publication of a comprehensive Energy Assurance Emergency Plan that will provide the framework for minimizing the impact of energy disruptions.  And second, when a disruption does occur: the roles, responsibilities, and procedures outlined in a Utility Disruption Incident Annex to the State Emergency Operations Plan can be activated to respond to the basic needs of a jurisdiction’s residents while repairs are underway.

NOTE:  This article previously appeared in the IAEM Bulletin and is being reprinted with the permission of the International Association of Emergency Managers,