December 22, 2017
What leading utilities do to enhance emergency preparedness
By: Brooke Davies

Many North America utilities have invested considerably in recent years to mature their emergency practices. They have been moving from storm-centric planning to comprehensive, all-hazards emergency management, which requires integrating planning, training, exercising, communications and coordination. Responses—whether to storms, cyberattacks, hostile intruders or earthquakes—are being verified for effectiveness, efficiency and safe outcomes.

Through our extensive work with utilities, Accenture has distilled four key indicators of leading practices:

  1. Dedicated emergency management organization with adequate staff to align strategy and activities at the corporate level. The level at which the function is positioned is an indicator of the maturity of its emergency (outage) management organization (EMO) and practices for broader preparedness, response, communications and recovery. Utilities with an EMO leader who is a director or higher and reporting directly to the C-suite have been better able to mature their programs. The reality is that programs led by an executive are generally well-resourced and able to drive an all-hazards strategy, strengthen response capabilities and approach emergency management as an enterprise-wide core competency.

  2. Central all-hazards planning to move the enterprise quickly and effectively. Leading utilities make effective use of the time between emergencies to concentrate on risk mitigation and preparedness. By developing a long-term vision and strategy and combining that vision with actionable tasks and efforts, industry leaders proactively identify hazards, then design and implement targeted approaches to reduce the likelihood of an incident as well as mitigate potential consequences.

    This approach enables industry leaders to improve capabilities in at least three ways:

    1. In advance of an incident, a core emergency plan shapes budgeting and resource decisions in support of enhanced preparation and response capabilities from the C-suite to field operations.

    2. Hazard-specific planning, in the form of extensions to a core plan, enables response and incident management personnel to activate quickly based on the nature and scale of an incident, while maintaining uniform processes and procedures across the enterprise. This approach allows roles to be added as situations evolve without creating hiccups in operations.

    3. Ensure internal-external coordination. Leading utilities work proactively with external organizations to collaborate in responding and enhancing preparedness for the community overall.

  3. Emergency communications planning at parity with emergency operations planning. Industry leaders prioritize emergency and crisis communications, which include the processes, planning and implementation of a communications strategy before and during incidents. Utilities that place a high priority on communications before, during and after emergencies become trusted allies for customers, government officials and other stakeholders.

    Leading-practice companies establish an overarching communications plan with hazard-specific communications “modules” that provide a cohesive strategy. Most communications plans establish robust teams with well-defined roles and responsibilities, and detailed processes to develop a strategy, utilize multiple channels and develop, integrate, and distribute messaging by identifying target audiences. These plans are in place before developing pre-approved, hazard-specific messaging so each stakeholder group receives meaningful, useful information.

  4. Incident Command System (ICS) to help manage response operations and coordination with partners. Utilities are discovering that ICS can be useful to improve incident-response operations. Utilities adapt the system to their existing culture and operational structures, and—in utilities with leading practices—an all-hazards, ICS-based organization is used from the executive level to front-line field operations, regardless of incident type. Such systems have team at multiple levels:

  • Crisis management team. Senior executives provide policy direction, support and strategic leadership to protect the brand and financial interests of the company;

  • Incident support team. Typically, directors and above are activated when incidents are widespread and may require coordination across a large geography; and

  • Incident management teams. On-the-ground teams take responsibility for tactical response and incident management.

The next phase of emergency management maturity is likely to leverage digital tools to enhance situational awareness, communications, and information sharing among internal and external stakeholders. Digital solutions can support resilience by automating and streamlining outage detection, prevention and restoration. Innovation will enable utilities to adapt and prepare systems, technologies, processes, assets and people to face myriad challenges.

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