Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

WAPA’s Sierra Nevada Region successfully tests pandemic sequestration

The Western Area Power Administration’s Sierra Nevada Region successfully tested sequestration processes and procedures developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in the process gathered several lessons learned. 

The test was performed in WAPA’s Sierra Nevada Region for its power system dispatchers.  The first test began April 27 and ended May 1, while the second test was held from May 1 to May 5.  Both tests ran for 24 hours each day over each set of four consecutive days.

WAPA’s objective in conducting the tests was to ensure the Sierra Nevada Region would be prepared if it was required to sequester its power system dispatchers for an extended time. Sequestering the power system dispatchers, or having them live at the work site, protects these essential workers from exposure to COVID-19 and ensures the Sierra Nevada Region is capable of providing reliable electricity to its customers and the communities they serve during this pandemic, a summary of the sequestration tests noted.

The lessons learned from the test sequestration will offer valuable information to improve the sequester posture for the Sierra Nevada Region and all of WAPA and the Department of Energy.

The Sierra Nevada Region is one of five offices in WAPA. The Sierra Nevada Region markets power in northern and central California, and portions of Nevada, to wholesale customers and federal end-use customers such as towns, rural electric cooperatives, public utility and irrigation districts, Federal, state, and military agencies, Native American tribes and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation customers. WAPA is part of the DOE.

Lessons learned

Sonja Anderson, Regional Manager and Senior Vice President for the Sierra Nevada Region, noted that one of the key lessons learned from the tests related to lining up contracts for recreational vehicles.

“In terms of lessons learned, one of the things that we were doing was getting RVs in place,” she said. “We were making our sequester plans across all of WAPA and so each region was getting a certain amount of RV rentals onsite just to be ready should we need to sequester,” Anderson said.

Setting up the RV rental contracts proved to be challenging, Anderson noted. “From a lessons learned perspective, I think I would be telling utilities to get something set up and some kind of contracts in place,” so that if a second COVID-19 surge occurs in the fall, the utilities “have a mechanism in place to set up a sequester for their essential employees.”

There were other lessons learned tied to the COVID-19 tests in the areas of cleaning and hygiene, living conditions and employee feedback response.

With respect to testing, the Sierra Nevada Region did not realize that a vendor hired to conduct COVID-19 “Abbott” tests needed an order from a California licensed doctor. This almost prevented power system dispatchers from being tested prior to sequestration.

The region wound up working with a contracted doctor that the Sierra Nevada Region uses for personnel physicals and was able to obtain the needed order. In the future, the Sierra Nevada Region will need to pursue a DOE doctor’s order or obtain one from another California doctor.

Acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE) was another issue that needed to be addressed. “In the beginning, we weren’t getting the PPE fast enough,” Anderson noted. The region was able to find a local quilting group that was making cloth masks “and so we did go out and get the dispatchers some cloth masks so that they could feel protected from each other as they changed shifts.”

With respect to living conditions, there were two lessons learned as it relates to actions to take prior to a future sequestration event.

One is to inspect living areas and ensure the areas are fully stocked with the necessary supplies and functioning equipment to provide for a comfortable living space for sequestered employees.

The second is to ensure that the schedule for cleaning of the RVs and wastewater removal is done when sequestered employees are not sleeping or occupying the RVs. 

Overall, the Sierra Nevada Region’s sequestration test was a success and the region’s mission continued without incident. Power system dispatchers “felt safe and supported, and their logistical concerns were resolved quickly,” the summary of the tests said.

Public power utilities sequester in response to pandemic

Several public power utilities have sequestered workers in response to the pandemic.

Those utilities include California’s SMUD, the New York Power Authority, the City of Tallahassee, Fla.’s Electric & Gas Utility, Colorado Springs Utilities, and the City of Grand Island Utilities Department in Nebraska.

For additional details, read this recent story in Public Power Daily.