SOURCE: marcus evans

marcus evans

August 07, 2015 16:39 ET

Energizing Outage Recovery Efforts Through Collaboration With Stakeholders and Enhanced Crew and Materials Planning

Interview With Ken Hughlett, Senior Emergency Management and Business Continuity Specialist, Operations & Planning Chief, Crisis Management Team, Colorado Springs Utilities

ATLANTA, GA--(Marketwired - August 07, 2015) - Each year, power outages create on going challenges that ultimately lead to lost resources, time and revenue. Therefore, in order to restore power quickly to customers and lessen the impact to the community, it is critical for utilities to enhance their current mutual assistance and mutual aid efforts.

Ken Hughlett, Senior Emergency Management and Business Continuity Specialist, Operations & Planning Chief, Crisis Management Team at Colorado Springs Utilities, recently shared with marcus evans some insight into emergency planning:

You will be presenting on the topic: Troubleshooting restoration efforts and working with public sector entities for utmost regional coordination, communication and resource sharing. What are some of the key takeaways and shared lessons the attendees can expect to receive from your case study?

KH: Utility operators should learn the basics of Incident Command Systems (ICS) and Emergency Operation Center (EOC) functions before the disaster strikes. Basic ICS and EOC functions will be reviewed in the presentation and suggestions provided for additional training and resources. It's important to the protection and restoration of critical infrastructure to develop working relationships with all the emergency responders in your area. Understanding their language is key to this process.

Utilities traditionally have resources that other public sector responders do not have access to on regular basis. It's vital to surviving a community wide disaster for the utility and the local emergency management office to coordinate resource inventories, resource ordering and sharing processes, and develop a gap analysis to plan for additional needs. Colorado Springs has learned from two major wildfires, a power plant fire and multiple flooding events that this planning is critical for the community response.

You have good experience from responding to disasters such as power plant fires, gas disruptions and network outages. What are some lessons learned from those events and how was personal and employee preparedness executed?

KH: Planning for disasters before they occur is critical in the rapid response to any emergency that strikes. CSU conducts planning for disasters on all levels of the organization from emergency evacuation drills to major water disruptions. The planning process produces written plans that are important in training and identifying area of improvement, however, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything."

We value the process of creating the plans and troubleshooting problems before we need to address them. While the emergency rarely knows the details of our plan, the process of creating the plan gives our employees the ability to problem solve during the event.

In addition to internal planning processes, we reach out to the local public safety and volunteer agency members in our community. The relationships established before the emergency are critical in our success.

In what ways have Colorado Springs Utilities and local emergency officials improved their disaster planning after the wildfires and floods from recent past years?

KH: Communication is critical in all disasters, and typically one of the major improvements noted in all exercises and real events. Our recent events have been no different. After the Waldo Canyon Fire, we started doing more exercises with multiple agencies. Our EM community worked to include organizations that you wouldn't think of as part of an emergency response. We included agencies such as local insurance organizations, package delivery giants, and even local schools.

This new effort to grow our emergency response community has been an ongoing process, but has greatly improved the communication before, during, and after emergencies.

One bold move that Colorado Springs Utilities made was to change from a Business Continuity department to an Emergency Management and Business Continuity department. The focus was changed from business continuity to including management of the emergency as it happened. CSU has created a 120 member Crisis Management Team capable of running an emergency operations center to support the needs of our operations staff during disasters.

It's important for Officials to learn when to share information. Oversaturation is a concern, because repeated alerts can cause people to become desensitized to a situation's urgency. What steps have been taken to find a balance between keeping people informed, and still interested?

KH: Oversaturation of emergency information will always be a balancing act. With the heightened threat of post-wildfire flooding, our community needed as much information as possible. Our EM community worked with the community and media to provide as much information as possible before any flooding event so that residents would know what would happen and how they should react. The first year was difficult because of the unknown behavior of the burn scar. As time has progressed, the EM staff has been able to model the behavior of water on the scar and adjust the warning levels as needed. This has resulted in less warning, and more attention when a warning is issued.

At CSU, we have internal emergency notification processes. As we mature our program, we have refined the delivery methods and the amount of information provided. Initially we would blast all desk phones, cell phones, texts, and email accounts. We have refined that process to include just a text and email, unless it's an immediate threat to life.

In a past weeklong exercise with FEMA, emergency responders, city officials, police, fire and Colorado Springs Utilities representatives assessed the efficiency of the OEM's disaster response plan. You mentioned in an article that the biggest improvement, in terms of communication, is that you've increased the capacity of your joint information center. Tell me more about that and what have been some of the lessons and key drivers?

KH: During the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest Fires, the jurisdictions in charge would establish a Joint Information Center and a Call Center. These centers were typically not in the same physical locations, and did not have the infrastructure to support operations. With lessons learned from Waldo and Black Forest, the City of Colorado Spring OEM initiated the design and construction of a semi-hot Joint Information/Call Center. The rooms were outfitted with data lines to support the extra computers and phones, and additional AV support to monitor local and national media.

The Integrated Emergency Management Course (IEMC) was the first opportunity to exercise the JIC with the new location. Various public information officers from local agencies participated and offered valuable feedback on the design and use of the new location. As events have occurred, new ideas are explored and the JIC evolves. Some of the key points addressed in the design included common operating pictures and information sharing. The common location of the PIOs and the Call Center staff has improved the accuracy of information provided to the community, as well as the speed at which concerns are addressed.

Ken Hughlett, BS, NRP - Ken is currently a Senior Emergency Management Specialist for the Colorado Springs Utilities' Emergency Management and Business Continuity. During recent disasters, Ken has functioned as the Logistics' Section Chief and Food Unit Supervisor for the Joplin Tornado and as an EOC Director during the Waldo Canyon Fire, Black Forest Fire, numerous flooding events, and other large planned events. Ken is also an EMS Instructor in Colorado with 13 years' experience teaching EMTs and Paramedics. He has a B.S. in Occupational Safety and Health from Columbia Southern University, Nationally Registered Paramedic, and State Certified Paramedic.

Ken has over 27 years' experience in both emergency response and occupational safety, and has presented at many conferences on topics ranging from disaster response, community CPR and AEDs program, and turkey ergonomics. Ken will provide insight on the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) / Business Continuity concepts used to ensure that your business remains functional during and after disasters. We will discuss some of the higher risks in our region, and some potential plans to address those issues. We will also have conversations about determining the mission critical functions that need to be supported.

Join William at the 15th Annual Outage Response & Restoration Management Conference, October 21-23, 2015 at the W-Midtown in Atlanta, GA. For any questions, read through the conference agenda or contact Tyler Kelch, Assistant Marketing Manager, marcus evans at 312.894.6310 or Tylerke@marcusevansch.com.

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