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State Grid Operator Boosts Emergency Plans to Keep Lights On

The New York Independent System Operator has bolstered plans to include vaccination requirements, testing and contact tracing to safeguard the state’s information systems amid COVID risks.

(TNS) — Just over two years ago, about three dozen control room workers at the New York Independent System Operator were sequestered in an RV trailer camp set up in the organization's parking lot.

It was the height of the COVID-19 outbreak and these specially trained operators epitomized the "essential workers" required to keep the economy going.

NYISO is the organization that helps run the state's vast electric grid. They literally help keep the lights on by directing where electricity from multiple power plants is sold via ongoing auctions and dispatched to where it is needed.

The control operators, who volunteered for the sequestration, spent weeks working 12-hour shifts and then living in RV campers to ensure they wouldn't be exposed to COVID and taken out of action.

Today, things have calmed down, but the pandemic has led to some bolstering of emergency plans, just as it has at countless businesses and organizations across the state.

One change includes NYISO's approach to vaccination and testing.

"We have updated our pandemic plan and COVID management strategy to include mandatory vaccinations, rigorous testing, and comprehensive in-house contact tracing for employees and contractors," NYISO spokesman Zack Hutchins said in an email.

"Due to its critical nature, NYISO has long maintained a comprehensive disaster plan which includes pandemic planning, and safeguards for information systems," the organization explained in a prepared statement.

"The pandemic plan, which was implemented at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, provides escalating levels of action that are proportional to the risk to its operations resulting from an outbreak," according to NYISO.

National Grid took similar measures.

While NYISO coordinates the auctions in which electricity is sold by power plants, National Grid delivers the electricity by operating the power lines in its service area, which includes much of the Capital Region.

National Grid had to sequester about 200 people in various locations across upstate, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The utility also operates special transmission control rooms where workers monitor and ensure that electricity gets to where it is needed.

They used a combination of RV campers while others slept on air mattresses in the buildings.

Other changes included using single-occupancy trucks and hotel rooms when travel was required and having staged or timed check-ins at work to avoid crowds of people and working with Canadian companies that typically support National Grid during emergencies.

The utility also eliminated large communal dining/buffet set-ups, even though that was less efficient.

"Most adaptions in response to COVID caused utilities to overcome efficiency challenges and add additional steps to our response procedures," according to National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella. "We are better prepared in the event we were to be faced with another wave, or new pandemic of similar circumstance. Although we had an emergency plan prior to COVID, the last two years focused around improving these procedures in order to be better prepared."

"Lead times for some supplies have increased, especially in the past few months, causing us to look at warehouse and materials management strategies differently," added Stella.

"Thinking ahead, one of the biggest challenges that we are working through now is how we are working in the office. We are much more conscious of personal hygiene, i.e., washing hands, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes at every seat in a conference room, etc," he said.

"We also continue to work in a hybrid environment for office-based employees where we are more strategic about coming into the office and holding in-person meetings. This approach has allowed us to reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate travel times and vehicle use."

(c)2022 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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