I have two girls – ages 12 and eight. As the evolving COVID-19 situation has gradually begun to impact our daily lives over the last few weeks, my girls have had to absorb major changes to their regular routines. We are, of course, only one family among millions that has had to do the same. When my younger daughter’s state championship gymnastics meet was canceled and my older daughter’s soccer season was as well, it gave my husband and me the opportunity to remind them that “this too shall pass.” There are also many examples of people much more greatly impacted than they are – first and foremost, those who have died from or been severely sickened by the virus. The myriad of small businesses forced to shutter their doors without a sense of how long they must do so and if they will be able to come back. Also, in less serious, but still significant ways -- the high school seniors foregoing their proms and graduations, the college students abruptly kicked out of their dorms and forced to head home, the Olympic athletes seeing their dreams of medals this year fade.
By comparison to these situations (and to historic examples like world wars, famine, and devastating illnesses like pre-vaccine measles and smallpox), my girls’ situation is a walk in the park – a few things canceled, schoolwork done from home, and restricted access to friends. But still, it is a big change, and it requires them to adjust, adapt, and refocus on the things they can learn and do during this strange time. In short, it requires resilience.
The most basic definition of resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Wikipedia offers a longer definition in the fields of engineering and construction, where resilience is:
“the ability to absorb or avoid damage without suffering complete failure and is an objective of design, maintenance and restoration for buildings and infrastructure, as well as communities. A more comprehensive definition is that it is the ability to respond, absorb, and adapt to, as well as recover in a disruptive event. A resilient structure/system/community is expected to be able to resist an extreme event with minimal damages and functionality disruptions during the event; after the event, it should be able to rapidly recovery its functionality similar to or even better than the pre-event level.”
The concept of resilience is embedded in the American psyche from our country’s inception and has been tested in recent years by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Great Recession of 2008, major hurricanes, and wildfires. Each and every time, our country has recovered and become more resilient in the process.
The electric sector, including community-owned, not-for-profit public power utilities, are used to responding to major natural disasters and targeted physical attacks to their infrastructure. They have also planned for less traditional “high-impact, low-frequency” events like cybersecurity attacks and yes, pandemics. As such, public power utilities and the entire sector have initiated plans to address the COVID-19 threat – plans already in place. Essential utility workers know that they must make sacrifices to keep the lights on, the computers powered, and the refrigerators humming. They are ready and willing to do so.
Even with these preparations, electric utilities must rely on other industries to provide enough COVID-19 testing for essential personnel and personal protective equipment for those personnel to access quarantined areas. State and local governments must also be clear that utility personnel are essential and make exceptions to directives limiting movement. The industry itself is working closely with federal, state and local governments on these issues. We are also preparing to respond to any weather events that arise in the meantime, and to continue to deploy extensive cyber-security measures to protect against potential cyber-attacks with operational impacts.
As community-owned public power utilities respond along with the rest of the electric sector, we are doing so with the ultimate goal of maintaining a healthy workforce that can in turn deliver the robust electric service our country depends upon every day, whether working at home or at the office or learning at home or at school.
While we don’t know when this situation will be behind us, what we’ve learned from the past is that we will bounce back stronger than ever. This applies to our country, public power, and my daughters.