Preparing for Success During Crisis Operations
By David Vanderbloemen - Principal Consultant at DV Consulting LLC and key partner in the BES Network
Mr. Vanderbloemen has 42 years of experience in electric distribution including design, construction, scheduling, metering, operations, safety, outage management and emergency response. Before starting his own consultancy practice, David was the Director of Emergency Preparedness for the Regional Operations Centers at Dominion Energy. Prior to directing emergency preparedness, he served as Director of Operations for Dominion Energy.
Mr. Vanderbloemen’s unique insights have been gained through involvement in leadership positions on teams at the Southeast Electric Exchange (SEE), All Hazards Consortium (AHC), the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and American Edison Illuminating Companies (AEIC). He also has extensive experience in areas such as ADMS technology, distribution switching, contingency planning, logistics and responding to complex emergencies.
I remember Hurricane Isabel like it was yesterday. I had recently been promoted to manage our company’s (a major electrical utility provider) Northern Virginia Regional Operations Center. The day after impact, my team was charged with reviewing damage assessments and producing an executable response plan. We had been decimated by this storm, and we required an all-hands-on-deck approach for response. I quickly realized that, while I was surrounded by dozens of talented and committed colleagues, we had little documented response plans that could help organize and manage a response of this magnitude. Our after-action review confirmed that. Even with the chaos and confusion we did a good job as a team. We achieved most of our success, however, through brute force and countless hours of “just in time” planning. This event clearly reinforced to me the need for well documented and communicated operating procedures.
So, how do you ensure your team is prepared and ready to respond to your next event?
The success of most organizations can be predicted by how well they perform these four activities:
Developing detailed standard operating procedures.
Enforcing a structured governance process to review or modify these documents and prioritize efforts.
Having optimized technology and information collection, analysis, and distribution processes to ensure all affected individuals have access to the most up to date information based on agreed upon and understood SOPs.
Establishing detailed training and exercise programs to practice and measure your team’s understanding of the processes.
Foundational to all of these tasks is having detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs). These should be specific and well documented. Colleagues reading these documents should be able to clearly articulate the organizations objectives, interpret expectations, and understand defined roles and responsibilities. As you can imagine, developing and documenting your SOPs can be complex. In order to maintain consistency and confidence in these procedures, you must implement the second phase of this process by developing and adhering to a structured governance process. Every colleague has an opinion, and we all know there are many ways to peel an onion. Having structured governance provides all team members a way to provide feedback and ensure best practices are identified and incorporated into your SOPs. Without this governance, well-meaning individuals may unintentionally alter or deviate from your SOPs, leading to unintended consequences. In addition, ambiguous and undocumented plans produce confusion, increase expenses, and can even jeopardize safety. Without this discipline, you will rarely operate at the level of performance you expect, and in worst case scenarios, personnel can be seriously injured; both results can be avoided.
Once your SOPs have been developed and you have a structured governance program, you need to have a process that ensures these documents get distributed and are accessible to each team member. A best practice is to keep plans and standard operating procedures in a centralized location that provides easy access to the current SOPs while maintaining an archive of past editions for review if necessary.
After SOPs are codified and socialized, technologies are only then selected, configured and deployed to support your operations. This sequence helps ensure your technology is optimized, provides real-time situational awareness, supports essential workflows and enables access to required information products and standard operating procedures.
The success of these three steps (SOPs, establishing governance, and optimizing technology to support workflows and information sharing) depends upon one additional critical step - instituting a regimented training and exercise program. Too often organizations assume their teams understand expectations, can execute established SOPs, and know how to use the tools and technologies. We should avoid the false sense of security provided by past experiences or the expectation that some level of “on-the-job” training will adequately prepare teams for the next disaster. To avoid these risks, implement regular training exercises and drills. These exercises should confirm that each team member clearly understands expectations and responsibilities. This enables personnel to ask questions in a safe environment and provides you the opportunity for feedback, discussion and clarification of objectives if needed.
Training and exercises require an investment of time and effort and are often skipped or overlooked. Do not view this step as optional! Proper training will reinforce expectations while reducing errors and expenses, but most importantly will build the confidence necessary in your workforce to be successful.
So, if you want to increase your likelihood of success, make an investment in your team. Document your SOPs, develop and enforce a governance plan, optimize your technology to maintain situational awareness and information sharing, and, finally, dedicate time for meaningful exercises that provide feedback and reinforce expectations. These are all investments that will pay dividends in the long run. Good luck and be safe!