The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission recognized the month of November as National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, noting the importance of Pennsylvania’s critical utility systems and the need for ongoing planning and testing to ensure that utilities, agencies and the public are safeguarded.
“Our critical utility systems face many challenges and threats – from severe weather and natural disasters to physical and cyber threats,” said PUC Chair Gladys Brown Dutrieuille. “We continue working closely with our utilities, government agencies and other key stakeholders to help strengthen the security and resilience of our infrastructure.”
More information about National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, and the role every organization, business and individual plays in safeguarding critical infrastructure, is available from the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
The PUC’s 2021 “Operation Blue Flame” exercise explored how emergency response teams, state agencies and other organizations would respond to a disruption of natural gas distribution during extremely cold weather. It also analyzed how a wide-reaching and long-lasting interruption of service would impact residents, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, businesses, and other critical systems infrastructure. This year’s Operation Blue Flame is the third such statewide coordinated by the PUC.
Building on previous exercises, the PUC identified several “lessons learned” which will help guide future responses, including:
- The Unique Nature of Natural Gas Disruptions – Customer restoration for a large gas disruption can be more prolonged and logistically challenging than other utility outages.
- The Wide Reaching Impact of Natural Gas Outages – Extended gas service disruptions during cold weather can cause cascading effects to businesses and residents and require the assistance of multiple agencies and resources.
- Supply Chain Issues Can Delay Restoration – During a large response, delays in obtaining replacements for damaged customer equipment and distribution system equipment could impact full restoration.
- The Importance of Mutual Assistance – Utilities and county agencies will need to coordinate and collaborate to identify and acquire the necessary response resources.
- Transportation and Relocation Play an Important Role – Natural gas distribution companies (NGDCs) should develop transportation and relocation plan relationships with hotels and local transport companies and other resources.
The Blue Flame exercise identified response and communications strategies and tactics that could assist utilities, the local business community and impacted residents. Additionally, NGDCs can use lessons learned from the exercise to train their dispatch personnel and enhance their information collection and incident reporting.