HUGHESVILLE, Md. - Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) recently staged a simulated large-scale emergency to measure the Co-op's ability to handle massive storms and other crises.
The federal Rural Utilities Service (RUS) requires electric cooperatives to keep written Emergency Response Plans for dealing with events that pose risks to the utilities. Along with natural events such as hurricanes or ice storms, these emergencies include fires, terrorist attacks, cyber attacks, and biological attacks. Cooperatives must show how they prepare for these crises and how they would begin restoring their damaged electric and telecommunications systems.
The SMECO drill was a tabletop exercise where more than 40 employees responded to simulated events. Participants were first told that a Category 2 hurricane had cut electric service to most of SMECO's customers. The scenario later involved critical injuries to employees, an evacuation of a Co-op building, and damage to some computer systems. These mock events required participants to address not only widespread outages but also loss of computer data, damage to buildings, shortages of supplies, employee morale, and relations with the community.
The drill reinforced management's belief that communication among SMECO departments is critical to resolving any crisis. "The drill was not a pass-fail test for any individual employee. The goal was to identify areas for improvement in our emergency response planning," said Dave Viar, SMECO's security program manager. "Our employees responded very positively and very seriously to the simulation, and they offered excellent critiques of their performance."
The Cooperative plans another emergency response drill next year, with more actual events and participation by more employees.