The fundamental mission of energy assurance is “to take action to effectively respond to emergency situations, and to protect and mitigate affects on energy-related infrastructure and services.” Simply put, policies, programs, and investments made prior to emergencies can make for a more safe and secure energy supply. It’s about preparedness. In 2012, the U.S. experienced eleven weather disasters that cost over a billion dollars each. Superstorms like Sandy and Katrina cost $50 billion – $100 billion by themselves. Towns, cities, state governments, and the federal government need to take the necessary steps to protect citizens from disaster. And the first part of that, at least in terms of energy, is having a well developed and well organized energy assurance plan.
In general, there are four phases to emergency planning. Phase 1: monitor the situation and alert the relevant parties; phase 2: assess the situation and take action; phase 3: take follow-up actions and assess feedback; phase 4: review and document lessons learned from what happened for future reference. Ideally, a town’s emergency response plan should address all four phases in a comprehensive manner, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Local Government Energy Assurance Guidelines.”
For towns interested in creating or upgrading energy assurance plans, there are a few concepts to keep in mind. Disaster management is incredibly complex, but plans need to be
- straightforward for people to use, understand, execute
- detailed enough to cover many different, often unpredictable scenarios.
Resilience is the most important concept; building and designing your infrastructure both to withstand loss of functionality and facilitate an easier recovery. Resilience allows for alternative options if the energy system is under stress. Planning for resilience means devising a strategy to mobilize needed resources and services quickly so that the actions are adaptable and help speed recovery efforts. Resilience is often the ultimate goal for any emergency planning strategy.
All-Hazard planning is similar to resilience; preparing adequately for numerous hazards across many categories, including sabotage and terrorism, civil disturbances, natural disasters, infrastructure failures, and public health emergencies. Due to the intricate interdependencies of the U.S. energy industry, preparing for one type of hazard will often help a jurisdiction prepare for others, leading to increased resiliency.
Interdependency and Communication is the third core concept. Governments, government agencies, and even the smallest of small towns, do not exist in isolation. Cities and towns depend on local energy suppliers, local telecoms, and other corporations for heat, electricity, water, internet, and other essential functions. Conversely, those corporations depend on the local government entity. With such interconnectedness between the public sector, the private sector, and all of their constituents, communications in a disaster scenario – critical for disaster planning – is paramount. Timely exchange of accurate information in an emergency saves lives, and any disaster plan must include relevant and up-to-date contact information for all individuals who might have information on a given situation.
Events like natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or even large scale accidents are inherently unpredictable. But, towns can be prepared for them even though these events by nature are unexpected, with random consequences. Local governments that take the time to develop an adequate energy assurance plan – one that takes into account interdependency and communication that plans comprehensively for all-hazards and builds towards resilience – have a better chance of weathering coming storms.