PUC Marks November as National Critical Infrastructure Security & Resilience Month
Published on 10/28/2021
PUC Recaps Recent “Operation Blue Flame” Exercise Exploring Pennsylvania Responses to a Large-Scale Utility Service Disruption
HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today recognized the month of November as National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, noting the importance of Pennsylvania’s critical utility systems and the need for ongoing planning and testing to ensure that utilities, agencies and the public are safeguarded.
“Our critical utility systems face many challenges and threats – from severe weather and natural disasters to physical and cyber threats,” said PUC Chair Gladys Brown Dutrieuille. “We continue working closely with our utilities, government agencies and other key stakeholders to help strengthen the security and resilience of our infrastructure.”
While the security and resilience of critical utility infrastructure is recognized every November, the work of keeping these critical systems secure and operating is a year-round task.
More information about National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, and the role every organization, business and individual plays in safeguarding critical infrastructure, is available from the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
“Operation Blue Flame 2021”
The PUC’s 2021 “Operation Blue Flame” exercise explored how emergency response teams, state agencies and other organizations would respond to a disruption of natural gas distribution during extremely cold weather. It also analyzed how a wide-reaching and long-lasting interruption of service would impact residents, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, businesses, and other critical systems infrastructure. This year’s Operation Blue Flame is the third such statewide coordinated by the PUC.
Building on previous exercises, the PUC identified several “lessons learned” which will help guide future responses, including:
- The Unique Nature of Natural Gas Disruptions – Customer restoration for a large gas disruption can be more prolonged and logistically challenging than other utility outages.
- The Wide Reaching Impact of Natural Gas Outages – Extended gas service disruptions during cold weather can cause cascading effects to businesses and residents and require the assistance of multiple agencies and resources.
- Supply Chain Issues Can Delay Restoration – During a large response, delays in obtaining replacements for damaged customer equipment and distribution system equipment could impact full restoration.
- The Importance of Mutual Assistance – Utilities and county agencies will need to coordinate and collaborate to identify and acquire the necessary response resources.
- Transportation and Relocation Play an Important Role – Natural gas distribution companies (NGDCs) should develop transportation and relocation plan relationships with hotels and local transport companies and other resources.
The Blue Flame exercise identified response and communications strategies and tactics that could assist utilities, the local business community and impacted residents. Additionally, NGDCs can use lessons learned from the exercise to train their dispatch personnel and enhance their information collection and incident reporting.
Key Partnerships to Safeguard Services
For years, Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of efforts to gather key stakeholders in government, utilities and nonprofit organizations to collaborate and prepare for potential threats. Much of that work was accomplished as part of statewide exercises and forums concerning cyber or natural ‘Black Sky’ incidents – incidents that have the potential to cause widespread disruptions to critical utility systems. Additionally, the PUC coordinates with utilities, other government agencies, emergency response organizations and other stakeholders to regularly practice and evaluate state responses to potential disruptions of critical systems.
About the PUC
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.
Visit the PUC’s website at www.puc.pa.gov for recent news releases and video of select proceedings. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube. Search for the “Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission” or “PA PUC” on your favorite social media channel for updates on utility issues and other helpful consumer information.
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