Businesses rely on infrastructure for operational productivity and economic stability. Every 4 years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases a “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” that depicts the condition and performance of the United State’s infrastructure. Each type of infrastructure is assigned a letter grade, similar to a school report card. According to the 2013 report, the Energy sector infrastructure received a D+.
The aging electrical grid, some of which originated in the 1880s, and pipeline distribution systems are becoming more susceptible to failure. The report stated, “Ongoing permitting issues, weather events, and limited maintenance have contributed to an increasing number of failures and power interruptions”. Over the next five years, nearly 17,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines, as well as additional oil and gas pipelines are scheduled for construction. Despite plans, new construction is slow and expensive, leaving established infrastructure vulnerable until mitigation efforts are complete.
For companies, this potential for infrastructure failure highlights the importance of securing supply chains and assessing response plans. When extended power failures occur, companies operations can endure significant challenges and potential financial losses. “If the electricity goes out, businesses will shut down for the day,” said Gregory E DiLoreto, P.E.,President of ASCE. “They will send their workers home. Goods and products don’t get made (and) profits are lost.”
Identifying critical utility and technology related operations is the first step in mitigating the potential threat of an extended power outage. Possible critical utility and technology involved in business operations include, but are not limited to:
- Utilities including electric power, gas, water, hydraulics, compressed air, municipal and internal sewer systems, wastewater treatment services
- Security and alarm systems, elevators, lighting, life support systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, electrical distribution system.
- Manufacturing equipment, pollution control equipment
- Communication systems, both data and voice computer networks
- Transportation systems including air, highway, railroad and waterway
Once utility and technology related operations are identified, the following planning considerations should be taken into account in order to safeguard critical systems and develop an effective business continuity plan:
- Determine the impact of service disruptions and mitigate if possible (generators, fuel, relocating inventory, back up suppliers etc.)
- Ensure that key safety and maintenance personnel are thoroughly familiar with all building systems, such as alarms, utility shutoffs, elevators.
- Establish company-wide computer security, download, and backup practices in order to secure technologies and communications networks.
- Establish procedures for restoring systems.
- Establish preventive maintenance schedules for all systems and equipment.
But energy infrastructure is not limited to power sources. Both the input and output supply chain associated with energy transmission must be secured. Despite corporate and regulatory inspection efforts and equipment evaluations and retrofits, oil and gas pipeline companies must be prepared for potential structural failures that inhibit overall energy operations and potentially affect the environment. Utilizing facility response plans and tactical response plans can address emergency response obstacles associated with pipeline failure.
Facility response plans are required by regulatory agencies for facilities that could potentially cause substantial harm to the environment by discharging oil into or on navigable waters. These plans present processes and procedures for mitigating additional harm to personnel, the facility, and the environment in the event of an incident. Tactical plans are beneficial in responding to pipeline incidents that can occur across various impact zones. It is typically not practical for Pipelines to utilize secondary containment, which eliminates a factor of safety often utilized for tanks and other equipment. Tactical plans deliver location-applicable response information across multiple pipeline zones. This short-term, site-specific information informs responders how to best access, assess, and respond to offsite spills. At a minimum tactical response plans should:
- Allow response personnel to prepare for and safely respond to spill incidents at sensitive locations
- Ensure an effective and efficient response despite geographical challenges
- Identify potential equipment, manpower, and other resources necessary to implement a spill response at the location
- Outline response procedures and techniques for responding to a spill at a specific location
- Improve regulatory compliance efforts through a more complete response plan
While companies continue to mitigate and rectify aging infrastructure issues that can cause disruptions and potential destruction, response planning and preparedness must be prioritized in order to sustain operations, potential profitability, and overall economic growth.