HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the Office of the Governor today hosted a “Black Sky” tabletop exercise, bringing together key stakeholders in government, utilities and nonprofit organizations to discuss state-level response to large-scale, hazardous events.
Gov. Tom Wolf attended the event and addressed the more than 130 participants, representing state and federal government agencies; neighboring state utility commissions; military and law enforcement agencies; utility companies; emergency-response organizations; and nonprofit organizations.
“Many organizations test emergency plans, but rarely do they prepare for a multi-faceted incident quite like a Black Sky event,” said Governor Wolf in his opening remarks. “Such an event would have an extraordinary impact on our society, causing power and service outages that could last days, weeks, even months.
“By being here today, all of you are preparing to minimize the impact of such an event and recover as quickly as possible. You are all doing your part to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania.”
PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown said, “I assure you – we are all where we need to be right now. By the time you leave here today, you will better understand how crucial it is that we all collaborate in our preparation for a ‘Black Sky’ event. We cannot underscore enough the importance of coordinated preparation – this event today may, in fact, be unprecedented.”
A Black Sky event is defined as an extraordinary, hazardous event producing power outages of a large, regional scale that last significantly longer than typical weather or operational outages. Such a scenario could impact electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater treatment, telecommunications and transportation service. It could be caused by a cybersecurity attack on the electric grid, severe weather or even the detonation of a nuclear or high-energy explosive device.
Today’s exercise, developed and led by the Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) Council, entailed a full-day training in Hearing Room 1 of the Commonwealth Keystone Building in Harrisburg. Due to the sensitive and confidential nature of the material covered, the event was closed to media and the public.
Jonathon Monken of the EIS Council led participants through the interactive event, joined by colleagues Avi Schnurr, John Twitchell and Kelly Cullinane, as well as Dr. Pina Templeton of the Templeton Family. Monken and the EIS Council plan to mimic today’s event across other states.
“Exercises like today’s are the key to reducing the impact of future disasters on people and property, and Pennsylvania is a national leader in proactively addressing these critical challenges before they occur,” said Monken. “Most importantly, it takes the collective work of government, private sector and not-for-profit organizations to recover from Black Sky hazards – and all those sectors are represented here today.”
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.
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