A look at averting, mitigating, and recovering from disasters affecting utility industry companies.
The utility industry has recently faced unprecedented challenges. We’ve not witnessed the last, from the ransomware attacks focused on energy providers to new climate challenges revealing energy grid weaknesses. And there is a growing suspicion that the worst is yet to come.
So, how are successful utility providers weathering the stormy industry landscape? We’ll need to look deeper into the Utilities Industries sector to answer this question.
With evolving markets, end-user pressure, the electrification movement, and an evolving climate, the challenges that face today’s Utility Companies are not only big, but they’re also unprecedented. Let’s start with the four major disaster categories that face managers and force them to make tough decisions.
Table of Contents
- Four Major Disaster Categories Facing The Utilities Industry
- Disaster And The Utility Company Response
- How Utility Companies Work On Averting Disaster
- How Utility Companies Practice Mitigation When Disaster Strikes
- 3 Ways Utility Companies Are Recovering From Disaster And Changes In Society
- Mid-Disaster Technological Shifts Increased Competition And Changed The Utilities Industry
Four Major Disaster Categories Facing The Utilities Industry
Currently, we have four major disaster types commonly faced by the utility industry. Not all of these disasters are new, and you shouldn’t be surprised to see them. But, let’s take a moment to see how each affects our interconnectedness within the Utilities Industry.
- Environmental Catastrophy
- Ransomware And Cyber Attack
- Climate Change
Environmental Catastrophy And Utilities
If there’s anything that the winter storms of early 2021 that wiped out the Texas power grid have taught us, it’s that our weaknesses include a lack of preparedness for what mother nature can deliver.
Temperatures had dropped to single digits, and energy providers found they faced a demand for electricity that they had not anticipated. The rolling blackouts began in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas. (source)
At the peak of the Texas power blackouts caused by adverse winter weather, a total of over 4.5 million people were without power, and many were also without water.
It isn’t just snowstorms and bad weather like hurricanes that affect utility providers, as you know. Ask any Californian, and you’ll hear that wildfire is a known and significant problem for many US residents.
All these environmental catastrophes can be crippling to a utility provider if not prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Ransomware Attacks On Utility Providers
Another blow to the peaceful future of utility firms came with the heightened and often effective tactics of the illegal ransomware attackers.
Take the Colonial Pipeline incident. Hackers had infiltrated the Colonial Pipeline computers and shut down their operation until Colonial Pipeline paid a total of $4.4 million in Bitcoin.
Luckily for Colonial Pipeline, a swift strategy to deal with the situation led to a minimal week of disrupted operations. That strategy included paying the ransom, not something one might think should be a part of a business strategy to deal with terrorists, but in this case, it paid off.
FBI officials were able to recover most of the ransom that Colonial Pipeline paid as a part of their mitigation strategy. (source)
There are some things that organizations can do to prepare for such potential disasters. Starting with a solid plan of action and only partnering with ISO-approved companies like emAPPetizer Inc, creator of the 1ST Reporting App, a practical mobile reporting application many utility company managers find invaluable for automating reporting processes. We’ll talk more about that later.
Pandemics And The Utilities Industry
2020 brought some of the most significant societal changes over the last 100 years. Aside from major worldwide events such as World War One and World War Two, humanity hasn’t seen this level of change since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 2018.
A changing societal landscape brought with it unprecedented challenges to utility providers across the globe. In North America, it meant changing the way our day-to-day operations occur.
The pandemic brought about a need for utility and other industries to adopt severe and strict measures to fight the spread of the COVID-19-causing Coronavirus. Utility and other businesses suddenly started tracking staff illness and started heavily practicing visitor and staff health screening.
As well as implementing strict measures to control the spread of illness into sensitive facilities such as water distribution, utility firms also had to manage a new requirement to shift office staff to a work-from-home environment. Depending on the company location, the work-from-home policy may still be in effect over a year after the pandemic first washed over North America.
Climate Change And Its Effects On Utilities
The denial of climate change is now silenced mainly by the clamor of studies citing our imminent demise if we don’t change our practices. Most utilities feel this pressure more than others might assume.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on recycling, but one aspect of what we consider utilities. Recycling has grown in interest since February of 2015, when it hit a multi-year low in popularity but has climbed ever since. (source)
Climate change drives societal awareness of a need to do our parts. Recycling is a significant aspect of society, and our use of products as consumers is affected and driven by climate change.
We also see that shifts in our climate create much more robust and unpredictable weather systems, like the storm that caused many Texans to live without power in freezing conditions for days in early 2021.
Or the force of Katrina as it drove water inland in New Orleans in 2005. It is likely that without climate change, New Orleans may not have faced such devastation.
Sometimes climate change causes such vast devastation as to wipe out entire aspects of utility processes. After all, collecting the garbage is hard when it’s all underwater.
The green movement has grown in popularity and acceptance in culture for years. This growth forces utility companies to adopt new and environmentally conscientious practices and processes.
From electrification of fleets to reducing office expenses by automating processes and using digital reporting solutions like that offered by 1ST Incident Reporting, utility firms find ways to marry their processes with technology to adopt a new standard of business operations.
Disaster And The Utility Company Response
How your utility company responds to disaster corresponds directly with the survival probability of the company. Averting company or organizational collapse is essential in an evolving business ecosystem. Let’s take a look at some of the ways your company can avert disaster.
How Utility Companies Work On Averting Disaster
Averting disaster is not just a wise business practice; it’s mandatory in today’s changing world.
When disaster strikes, many people ask, “Why didn’t I see this coming?”. It’s true; hindsight is always 20/20. However, with a good plan and a bit of forethought, utility firms can weather the storm.
Utilizing innovative technology is one-way businesses, including many utility providers, are working towards averting disaster.
Using mobile applications to automate information-sharing processes and day-to-day operational field reporting is one method managers use to win the battle against disaster. Companies can leverage technology for disaster aversion and increased operational efficiency using digital templates, reports, checklists, audits, and more.
Many firms still use downloadable templates for completing disaster aversion documentation processes. Forms such as the following are often incorporated into health and safety programs:
- Near Miss Reports
- Facility Inspection Checklists
- Dangerous Situation Reports
- Risk Assessment Audit Forms
- Safety Leading Indicator Tracker
- General Office Safety Audit Checklists
- Operator Vehicle/Equipment Inspection Checklists
- Employee Reasonable Suspicion Observation Checklist
There is much more to averting disaster than filling out a few forms, as you know. Companies must adhere to a robust and strict health and safety policy to avert most internal accident-caused disasters. These disasters are 100% preventable with proper safety procedures and equipment in place.
How To Start Averting Disaster At Your Utility Firm
Start by reviewing your health and safety policy to ensure adherence to the latest in local bylaws and operating requirements.
Analyze your operations and ensure that staff is well-trained in emergency response. The better trained your staff, the more likely disaster might be averted.
Include a robust and secure digital partner for your firm’s mobile and on-site reporting needs. Ensure that the digital partner is certified safe via an ISO rating, such as 1ST Reporting. If you are looking to use any digital reporting software, make sure it at least fits your minimum requirements for a secure operating environment. An ISO-registered company ensures you have the best chance to avoid a cyberattack.
How Utility Companies Practice Mitigation When Disaster Strikes
You’ve heard that disaster can strike in the blink of an eye. It is valid for all of us personally, just as it is valid for utility companies.
Remember back to March 11th, 2011, when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck at 14:46 (2:46 PM) local time. The residents and Fukushima power plant, a large nuclear power-producing utility in the area, had only ten minutes of warning before a wall of water hit the coast. (source)
That wall of water that washed over the defensive sea wall was 46 feet (14 meters) high. Mitigation of this magnitude of the disaster was unprecedented since Chornobyl.
What Mitigation Occured At Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant?
When the earthquake struck, the sensory systems at the plant went into action and quickly shut down the reactors. This act of preparation started up the emergency diesel generators, which powered the cooling systems to maintain stability within the reactor cores. The wall of water that came next and flooded the plant wiped out those generators, stopping cooling systems and allowing several nuclear cores to overheat and melt.
Although the Fukushima incident was a disaster on a scale of magnitude larger than most utility companies will ever face, it can teach us a lot about the way we manage our businesses. And a lot about how that management can mitigate disaster’s effects.
The essence of successful mitigation is thorough preparation. In the case of Fukushima, hindsight reveals that creating a nuclear power plant in an area vulnerable to potential tidal waves or tsunamis is probably a bad idea. But in your company, hopefully, you aren’t facing this magnitude of company future-altering decision-making at this time.
Again, it is wise for businesses to have disaster preparedness planning in place. It includes strong training practices for staff and the inclusion of mitigation protocols for potential disasters. Is your company prepared to deal with the unexpected?
Most companies will use a template similar to one of the following for reporting and mitigating damage in response to a disaster.
Some firms even go to digitize a procedural checklist to ensure maximum staff compliance in reporting incidents.
If your firm is ready to move away from printed paper documents for reporting, auditing, and other similar needs, check out the 1ST Reporting App. This secure mobile reporting and auditing platform helps utility firm managers to maintain adequate and efficient mobile reporting, from fleet inspections to site safety audits.
3 Ways Utility Companies Are Recovering From Disaster And Changes In Society
The recent devastation caused throughout multiple industries by the Coronavirus pandemic that struck in December 2019 has forced most businesses to think hard about their operations. Utilities are no exception to this.
Recovering over a year of rolling lockdowns, power and water usage fluctuations, technological shifts, and more have left many utility companies strained and scrambling for answers.
The trickle-down effect of disasters like the pandemic has forever altered how businesses operate and society functions.
Let’s dive deeper into some of these recovery efforts leveraged by utility providers to counter these drastic changes.
Many utility firms are altering how their businesses operate. Utility companies are evolving to meet the demands, whether it is automating processes or shifting away from older, less environmentally friendly practices.
Shift In Investment Capital Targets
Another obvious way that larger utilities adapt to a post-disaster pandemic is through increased investment in green technologies.
The pandemic and other time-related disasters pushed society into a greener, more environmentally conscientious state of mind. Elon Musk and his electric car company, Tesla, and his push for solar energy and battery technology came with it.
Add a new space race into the mix, and investment capital has significantly shifted for most utility providers.
The old way of investing in oil and fossil fuels is going the way of the dinosaur. We all see it, and we all know it’s only a matter of time before we exterminate their need. Utility companies are shifting their investments away from the polluting regime of the past and towards a greener, more sustainable future.
Adoption Of Technology
One of the most significant shifts in society over the last two decades is the accelerated advancement of technology. Utility sector businesses have had to advance with the times or get left behind. It is more accurate than ever in the energy production sector of the utility industry.
Adopting advanced technologies for things like communications (smartphones), field mobile reporting (smartphones, tablets, laptops, software applications), and even core business, principal management software used to calculate staff wages or maintain organized accounting has helped utility firms to move forward.
Mid-Disaster Technological Shifts Increased Competition And Changed The Utilities Industry
Several technological shifts happened due to the pandemic, from online shopping to ordering meals and groceries for delivery.
Many corporations are shifting away from the old way of doing things and moving forward with an internet-first consumer approach. This shift will change how utility firms function, given the shift in utility demands.
The shift for retail to move towards complete online sales only is one aspect of how society has changed due to the disaster of pandemics.
Global communications have dramatically increased, which means people are talking and comparing their utility providers more than ever before. The shift has caused many utility providers’ customer retention departments to reconsider their entire strategy.
Further to the abovementioned changes, the shift toward greener and electrified technologies has forced utilities to consider their operational strategies, from sales to investments.
With the newfound love for batteries and renewable power sources like solar energy, many new competitors are entering the energy market, shaking up the past’s once-stabilized power production monopolies.
Utility providers are countering these societal changes by implementing new technologies within their organizations. These technologies help counter the effects of change by adding automation to processes and essentially saving companies millions in expenses over time.
Noteworthy is that automating processes like mobile reporting, facility inspections, and other site audit document sharing procedures saves time and money and improves overall utility provider accuracy, increasing further business stability. And stability is something that every utility provider wants for their operational business model to reach maximum potential success.