Powering Strong Communities
Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

A five-step cycle for managing risk

Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Although he was not specifically talking about how electric utilities prepare for hurricanes, tornados, ice storms, and cyber or physical security threats, the adage still applies.

It is never too late to start preparing. Each utility faces a unique set of risks based on its geography, size, and assets. A utility’s risks also change over time – which is why it is important to take a regular look at your organization’s risk environment.

September is National Preparedness Month, which is a good time to remove any dust from your preparedness plans and update your risk management policies.

Any readiness endeavor can follow the five steps of the preparedness cycle.

preparedness cycle
  1. Plan

Defining expectations for an organization and individuals before, during, and after incidents.

Planning is the mechanism that permits utilities to manage the lifecycle of any incident. Plans can be strategic in nature, focusing on how to address risks and build capabilities over time, as well as dedicated to providing specific operational or tactical instructions by situation and role. In many cases, the process of planning is just as important as the plan itself and should include a broad planning team. The planning process includes identifying risks, determining the best course of action, clarifying responsibilities by role, and establishing processes to gather information, make decisions, and manage resources. It is important to regularly review plans, update them often, and make sure they clearly explain what to do and why to do it.

  1. Organize & Equip

Identifying the skillsets, equipment, technology, and other resources needed to execute plans.

This segment of the preparedness cycle focuses on identifying the needed skillsets, equipment, technology, or other resources to perform the actions described in the plans. This should include standard equipment and skillsets as well as specialized resources and equipment or surge capacity needs. Some of these resources may be maintained by the utility or preparedness program manager directly, whereas others may be obtained through mutual aid agreements, emergency procurement, or contracted through third-party services or suppliers.

  1. Train

Building capabilities within an organization’s operational groups, support staff, and leaders.

Training activities should focus on building the capabilities within the utility workforce and leadership  that were defined in an organization’s plans. Trainings should provide awareness of threats and hazards while progressively increasing in complexity to ensure all individuals with a responsibility during an incident have clear expectations of their role and the tested ability to perform their required functions.

  1. Exercise

Testing capabilities, equipment, and processes to identify gaps in plans, skills, or resources.

Exercises provide an opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of training activities and increase response personnel’s familiarity with specific processes. A utility should use exercises to test its capabilities as well as to improve its plans, processes, and procedures. Public power utilities can use our free Tabletop Exercise in a Box Toolkit. While most exercises ultimately use aspects of a scenario to test participants’ response, exercise planning should begin by focusing on what capabilities, functions, and plans need to be tested and then design a scenario to trigger actions in those areas. Conduct after-action reviews and develop after-action reports following every exercise to ensure necessary changes in plans, equipment, or training are completed in a timely manner.

  1. Evaluate & Improve

Making improvements to address gaps, risks, and changing stakeholder expectations.

The demands on a utility’s preparedness program are ever-changing. While the basic response functions remain the same, changes in the risk environment, technology, and customer or stakeholder expectations require utilities to continually evaluate the effectiveness of their preparedness programs. Improvement plans following exercises and incidents, benchmarking with peers, and reviewing the latest guidance from the American Public Power Association and other reliable sources are all good ways to evaluate the strength of your preparedness programs and identify opportunities to improve.

The Association’s new All-Hazards Guidebook, funded by the Department of Energy, is a free resource that reviews what public power utilities can do at each step of the preparedness cycle to be ready for a variety of risks. Additional resources for public power utilities to prepare and respond to disaster situations can be found on our Disaster Planning and Response page.