PUC Marks National Critical Infrastructure Security & Resilience Month; Recaps Recent “Blue Flame” Exercise Involving Large-Scale Utility Outage
Published on 11/1/2019
HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today recognized National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, noting the importance of Pennsylvania’s critical utility systems and the need for collaborative planning and testing to ensure that utilities, agencies and the public are safeguarded.
“Our critical utility systems face a variety of challenges – from severe weather and other natural disasters to physical and cyber threats,” said PUC Chair Gladys Brown Dutrieuille, who also chairs the Committee on Critical Infrastructure for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). “We are committed to working closely with our regulated utilities, government agencies and other stakeholders to help strengthen the security and resilience of our infrastructure.”
As part of the Commission’s continuing effort to enhance collaboration and communication between utilities and key emergency response and community organizations, the PUC recently joined with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to host a second annual “Operation Blue Flame” exercise, which touched on several core goals:
- Encouraging stakeholders to learn about infrastructure dependencies and the importance of community-wide efforts;
- Promoting interagency and multi-level collaboration; and,
- Reviewing emergency and business continuity plans to align with evolving threats.
The 2019 Blue Flame exercise was built on a scenario involving a disruption of natural gas distribution across a large geographic area during extremely cold weather.
The training session explored how emergency response teams, state agencies and other organizations would deal with the evolving consequences of a long-lasting outage, including the mass sheltering and feeding of residents and animals, law enforcement and security concerns, economic issues, business continuity impacts, resource coordination at the state and local levels, and other related matters.
The 2019 Blue Flame exercise built upon lessons learned during the first-ever exercise in 2018, including:
- Raising the awareness of all state agencies that would have to manage the societal consequences from a large-scale gas outage.
- Helping local and state government agencies better understand the need for adjusting current emergency planning for large-scale gas outages that may impact affected populations and communities.
- Preparing public health and emergency management agencies for the potential for mass care, sheltering, and feeding operations during a large-scale natural gas disruption.
- Developing state government business continuity plans that incorporate natural gas disruption as a planning risk.
“Exercises like Blue Flame helps us in planning for long-duration power interruptions caused by high-impact, low-probability events – which require new approaches to power system resilience above and beyond previous hardening efforts,” noted Chairman Brown Dutrieuille.
This past April, NARUC released a report which analyzed the value of resilience. The report was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as part of the Solar Energy Innovation Network and was prepared by Converge Strategies, LLC, a consulting firm working at the intersection of resilience, advanced energy and national security.
The ongoing efforts to safeguard critical infrastructure systems against natural or man-made threats complement the Commission’s continuing cybersecurity discussions – which were highlighted during October.
“Regardless of the threat, the Commission continues to promote efforts to strengthen the cyber and physical security of key systems and critical facilities – as well as efforts to improve the resilience of these systems, so that services can be restored more quickly in the event of a disaster or attack,” noted PUC Chair Brown Dutrieuille.
Pennsylvania is at the forefront of efforts to bring together key stakeholders in government, utilities and nonprofit organizations to collaborate and prepare for potential threats. Over the past several years the PUC has coordinated a series of statewide exercises and forums. Also, the Commission has fostered participation in national and international discussions about cyber or natural “Black Sky” threats – incidents that have the potential to disrupt electricity and other critical systems, such as natural gas, water, wastewater treatment, telecommunications and transportation, for millions of people.
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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