Powering Strong Communities

APPA Regional Exercise On Mutual Aid Yields High-Level Lessons Learned

A recent regional mutual aid held by the American Public Power Association (APPA) that was hosted by Ohio-based American Municipal Power (AMP) resulted in a series of high-level lessons learned.

The exercise took place on April 27 in Columbus, Ohio, and involved over 50 in-person public utility participants from four states and over 27 communities, including local county emergency managers and DOE regional emergency support function (ESF) #12.  

The ESF #12 Annex is a construct established within the National Response Framework. ESF #12 helps manage the resources required to support energy infrastructure systems, and public and private services and resources.

The exercise was kicked off by introductory remarks from Brandi Martin, Program Manager at DOE's Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, & Emergency Response.

The full day exercise featured in-depth discussion of emergency response issues including mutual aid and coordination with state, local and federal government.  The scenario for the exercise was a major tornado event causing widespread grid disruptions. This exercise began after the tornado made impact and did not deal with preparatory actions.  

Notable discussions during exercise or captured in a post-exercise review included the following:

  • Supply chain concerns, specifically transformers.  An interesting discussion (noted by most breakout groups) was about how to ensure public power utilities get needed materials during an emergency;
  • Challenges of small utilities vs. large utilities.  For example, one participating utility has only one lineworker;
  • Mutual Aid agreements with non-public power utilities;
  • Business Continuity vs Emergency Management topics;
  • Discussion of elevating from local to state to regional to federal in terms of mutual aid needs;
  • Identification of gaps in the Emergency Action Plans:  decision making, delegations, backup personnel;
  • Communication challenges and limitations, including use of communication groups and talk groups;
  • Safety/operations issues;
  • Impacts of social media and need to keep customers informed; and
  • Knowledge transfer and generational employee differences

In terms of high-level lessons learned, the exercise was very well received. Participants commented on the importance of addressing emergencies during “blue sky” days.  

Participants also commented that they appreciated the chance to participate and that DOE and APPA efforts made this possible.

Another lesson learned is the Importance of knowing peers at adjacent utilities and communities and sharing information with likely mutual aid participants.

The importance of having connections with local government decision-makers before the emergency response was another lesson learned.

Another lesson learned is the importance of having local experts as part of the facilitation teams. Each small group breakout session was led by a local power utility expert and an emergency management/exercise expert. The small groups and the local utility expertise helped draw participants into the discussions.

AMP is the nonprofit wholesale power supplier and services provider for 134 members in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Maryland and Delaware.

The exercise was held under DOE CESER Cooperative Agreement DE-CR0000012.