Powering Strong Communities
Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Pandemic or not, hurricane season is here

The start of hurricane season is here, and you may find yourself asking if you have done everything you could to prepare.

If you are in the eastern U.S., then you might have heard that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season will be more active than average. This is the fifth year in a row that NOAA has predicted above average activity for the Atlantic region. For those of you in the west or in the Pacific, NOAA predicts a near or below average 2020 season.

Of course, these predictions come without any certainty on whether or not your utility will be affected.

As Ben Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and this timeless wisdom applies to all the work you put into your utility’s emergency plans and practices. Taking the time now to ensure that your utility has an up-to-date preparedness program will save you time and effort in the event of a disaster.

A good preparedness program requires constant evaluation and improvement of your utility’s emergency policies and procedures.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic adds challenges to utility preparedness and response plans. Through weekly calls with APPA’s Mutual Aid Working Group, which is comprised of individuals from across the country, the mutual aid team at APPA has been discussing what mutual aid response could entail as COVID-19 remains a public health concern. These discussions fed into the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council’s Resource Guide on Assessing and Mitigating the Novel Coronavirus, which covers different operational aspects your utility should consider to protect the health and safety of utility employees and customers during the pandemic.

A section of the ESCC Resource Guide is dedicated to mutual aid considerations, and includes a mutual aid checklist and a sample screening questionnaire. The guide covers everything from work and safety practices to identifying and addressing health issues, and rethinking mutual aid activities such as staging sites, lodging, meals, and communications. The screening questionnaire can be distributed to any contractors or mutual aid crews before deploying to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the potential risk of exposure. Over the past few months, as utilities have continued to respond to mutual aid requests from their peer utilities in need, the Resource Guide has been helpful in keeping crews safe.

And while you’re refreshing your plans to account for COVID-19, remember to incorporate any lessons learned from the last hurricane season (or the past few years, if you are behind on updates) into your plans for this year. Whether you are starting from scratch or updating an old plan, APPA’s disaster response page includes a wealth of resources to make this update process easier.

Along with updating your plans, now is the best time to get in touch with your regional Public Power Mutual Aid Network Coordinator. Network coordinators provide general situational awareness from the regions they represent and are your first point of contact in the event of a disaster requiring mutual aid.

Make sure your utility has a signed Mutual Aid Agreement and reach out to the APPA mutual aid team at [email protected] with any questions.