On October 25, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) released a report regarding the lessons learned from the electric industry’s response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. NERC’s report described the industry’s response and provided possible solutions and paths for the industry’s future based on its findings.

NERC examined the industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic with the intent to provide lessons learned to help re-shape those plans before the next outbreak. NERC explained that its report considered the actions taken by transmission and generator operators, balancing authorities, and reliability coordinators in response to the pandemic. In addition to focusing on the electric industry’s response to the pandemic, NERC’s report included recommendations to help prepare the industry for future emergencies involving “significant infectious agents.”

NERC reported that utilities’ primary concern in developing their pandemic response was the health and safety of essential staff, while continuing to provide services for customers. NERC’s report found that many utilities took similar approaches at the beginning of the pandemic, including reducing on-site staff, promoting remote work, and limiting the staff in generating facilities and control centers to essential personnel. It also reported that, because little was initially known about the virus, many utilities erred on the side of caution by developing plans that covered a broad range of possible circumstances. As the pandemic continued and the knowledge surrounding it developed, utilities refined their approaches. Some utilities tried to increase the sanitization of work locations by providing barriers between workstations, restricting office flow to one-way directions, and adding on-site safety personnel. Others procured additional work-from-home equipment and accommodations for staff, upgraded technology to aid communications, or added new protocols for hiring and onboarding new staff. NERC found that many entities viewed the pandemic as an opportunity to improve safety protocols and practices, such as adding training exercises on how a virus could impact operations and how to respond. Lastly, NERC found that many entities creased post-pandemic return to the workplace plans.

In its “lessons learned” section of the report, NERC stated that any future pandemic response plans should “be in generic terms because the nature of future significant infectious agents are unknown.” NERC’s report concluded that, while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for most industries, there were some positive outcomes in response to the pandemic, including an increased focus on “the psychological and mental health needs of employees” and the fact that many entities were able to maintain reliability, while reducing their overall costs due to lower overhead expenses. Lastly, with the success of work from home, NERC found that many entities are considering keeping some aspect of their work from home arrangements for nonessential workers.

NERC’s Lesson Learned: Pandemic Response can be found here.