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In the Loop

Taking a strategic approach to disaster recovery

Planning for disaster scenarios that may never happen may sometimes seem a less than productive use of time and resources. However, for the power industry, having to respond to the damage caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or other disasters, while rare, is a distinct possibility. When a disaster occurs, there is little opportunity to stand back and consider the desired strategic outcome so prior planning and consideration becomes of the utmost importance. During natural disasters, the decisions of electricity executives may have life and death implications so it makes sense to prepare for such situations, however unlikely.

Phil Southwell, a Cigré Australia member who is the C1 Study Committee Chair, helped prepare a recent paper 'Disaster Recovery within a Cigré Strategic Framework: Network Resilience, Trends and Areas of Future Work'; which considers many of these challenges and was prepared on behalf of the CIGRÉ Technical Committee.

While earlier work has considered the technical impacts on power systems, this report considers the broader management issues that are critical to ensuring the impact of the disaster is minimised. To help form this strategic approach to dealing with disasters, Cigré undertook a major study of a number of disasters across continents and natural environments. These included such seminal events as the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand in 2011 and the Japan tsunami from the same year, as well as such issues as the Australian bushfires of 2009, Hurricane Sandy, and floods, ice storms and other major events from across the world.

A number of trends and common themes presented below were identified from these case studies and disaster responses. In addition, feedback from those on the front line who have responded to and managed disaster responses was used to enhance understanding and test the findings. These are detailed in the member’s paper, but a summary of key points is presented below.

Each disaster response is different, and be prepared for the worst

The unexpected 'black swan' event can occur and, because of the potential significant impact, is well worth considering and preparing for.

People management

Mobilisation of a workforce and thoughtful, ongoing interaction with employees/contractors/volunteers is important.

Policy implications

Industry and trade organisations have a role to inform and advise governments and policy makers on the interrelationships of systems and implications of system failures.

National cohesion and psychological management

Senior executives need to ensure there are adequate processes to manage general and industry perceptions surrounding an event, as it may change the nature of government response and management during the immediate period following a disaster.

Importance of communication

Communication flow is vital not only within the utility companies conducting repairs, but also between utilities, the public and governmental agencies.

Empowering middle-management and local leaders

Decentralised response may be better than centralised decision making, especially when the disaster is widespread.

Workforce trauma

The trauma and societal disruption that may be caused by a disaster event need to be considered in the management of the disaster event and its aftermath.

Long-term resilience

Planning to cover all possibilities and vulnerabilities is not feasible.
Utilities need to learn from others how to identify means of improving the longer-term resilience of the network.

International assistance

The process and need to co-ordinate external or international assistance should be managed as it can result in additional layers of administration and deployment challenges.


A detailed 25-page report is available to members – click here.

Based on the work completed, Cigré has identified a number of possible areas for future consideration, including building and measuring resilience, strategic planning options and technological robustness. Watch this space for more on these subjects.