NERC Backup Control Centers - Hurricane Harvey Lessons

Hurricane Harvey has revealed many things, not the least of which is the good that exists in humanity to rally to the aid of those impacted. Another item it has reminded us of is the impact of natural disasters on control centers. We wrote about flooding of the Oroville Dam previously and discussed the benefit of having geographically diverse BES Cyber Systems and control centers. However, most companies are not able to have their own geographically dispersed control centers because their territory is too small.

One possible solution is a reciprocal agreement with another company. You could make an agreement with another company that has a control center far enough away from yours that if there is a disaster you can use their control center or backup control center, and you agree to let them use yours if they experience a disaster. This solution is not simple, however. It takes setting up and coordination, such as setting up and maintaining your own servers or loading your operational control screens on their servers. It requires maintaining physical and electronic access lists. Also, reciprocal agreements are not required by NERC Standards. It's just an idea of something your company could explore in light of recent events.

Another idea is making sure technicians and operators who are needed during a disaster are able to and are willing to arrive at work. For the "able" aspect, an example would be if the planned disaster is a snow storm, do operators have a good snow vehicles at their home? For the "willing" aspect, consider how you would feel if your family wasn't taken care of and you were asked to come into work to help with a disaster. You would be hesitant, and even if you came into work your mind would be distracted. A possible solution is to identify key disaster personnel and ask them what they would need to have done for their family in order for them to feel good about leaving them. They may want to know their family has flashlights, enough food and water for X days, and all their kids made it home from school. Instead of having the operator or technician have to do all this on their own, your company could pre-assign disaster coordinators who would ensure flashlights, food, and water are at their home ahead of time. At the start of the disaster, the disaster coordinators would assure the operator they will handle everything for their family. The disaster coordinator would then coordinate with the family to ensure everyone was safe and had all the provisions they needed and then relay that information to the operator. This would allow technicians and operators to arrive at work quicker and do a better job knowing things were good at home. This system is also not required by NERC Standards. It's just an idea we can take from Hurricane Harvey.

If your company does implement controls above the requirements of NERC Standards, be sure to write about them in your procedures and RSAWs because Regional auditors will give you kudos for them at your next audit.

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