Cooperation 'makes all the difference' in grid protection

By Jodi Delapaz

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WASHINGTON, April 21, 2016 - Regardless of the cause of a power outage, the “cooperative difference makes all the difference” in planning for and responding to major service disruptions, Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative President and CEO Bobbi Kilmer told a congressional panel recently.

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Kilmer made her remarks during a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on

managing the aftermath of a cyber-attack or other disturbance to the electric grid. She spoke on behalf of Claverack, based in Wysox, Pennsylvania, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

Restoring service as quickly and safely as possible requires planning and coordination across the public and private sectors, Kilmer said. She emphasized the importance of “knowing your community” and noted that rural electric co-op employees live and work in the neighborhoods they serve.

She also highlighted the importance of mutual assistance, agreements under which co-ops and other utilities lend crews or other resources to assist with another power provider's restoration efforts. The vast majority of NRECA members participate in mutual assistance agreements, she says.

For example, in preparation for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Pennsylvania co-ops secured crews from as far away as Florida to help with recovery efforts.

“Electric utilities, including co-ops, have spent decades creating redundancies to enhance their security measures, but threats to both physical and cyber security are evolving,” she told lawmakers. “In response, industry continues to work together along with federal, state and local security and law enforcement agencies to enhance the security of its critical infrastructure.”

Kilmer noted that the Electric Sub-Sector Coordinating Council, the power industry's principal liaison with the federal government, coordinates policy efforts to prevent, prepare for and respond to incidents affecting critical infrastructure at the national level.

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At the local level, Kilmer said, Claverack's statewide association of electric co-ops joins forces with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's Critical Infrastructure Interdependency Working Group, which includes all utilities and services that would be affected by a major event within the state.

Claverack tests its business continuity and disaster recovery plans annually, says Kilmer. Components of the plan include confirming communication channels for key contacts, reviewing methodology for assessing the situation and determining appropriate courses of action.

“When the lights do go out,” Kilmer said, “our goal is to minimize any service disruption to our members and the communities in which they live.”

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