The utility industry has become accustomed to threats, but as the landscape has evolved, these threats have become far less predictable and manageable. As the industry typically depends more on reactive response procedures instead of proactive measures, organizations have become more vulnerable to threats in recent years. To ensure maximum network uptime, operators need a thorough resilience strategy that complements their reactive response procedures.
For example, extreme weather events have been rising across the globe. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the number of weather-related disasters increased five-fold over the last 50 years, which ranges from the Atlantic hurricane season in 2021 to winter storms across central and north-east America. This trend of increased disasters shows no signs of stopping. To add to the challenge, the decentralization of renewable energy generation and storage creates increased network vulnerabilities that demands more accurate and intelligent network awareness.
Increasing the value of data
Our team has seen how many operators lack access to valuable data as their existing geospatial information systems don’t properly integrate information from the network or workforce. It is far more common for network data to be stored in an analogue fashion, meaning they lack the accessibility and live worker intelligence available within a mobile-friendly digital format. Many operators also don’t link all their network data to location, and they only have a geographical view of their network, as opposed to an accurate technical model that can evolve and change.
This lack of network intelligence makes it difficult for utility operators to understand the status of their network, the exact root of risks and how to develop mitigation strategies. Without an intelligent, digital System of Record (SoR), data is commonly siloed across the business, hidden and inaccessible. This means that risk managers don’t have a complete overview of vulnerabilities, making it virtually impossible to develop proactive network resilience strategies.
To achieve greater network resilience, there are a number of proactive steps utility operators can take. Below are four steps we’ve seen our customers take to create better data-driven network resilience.
1. Create a ‘risk picture’
Organizations can assess the current network to identify and mitigate network weaknesses. This can be achieved by digitizing and decentralizing network data sources to create a risk picture which draws on diverse, live data on the ground and links to accurate location data. Utility operators can draw on live, local data from field crew mobile devices and remote sensors, and then overlay this onto geospatial network data to identify locations and potential hazard sources. This can be used to inform a real-time, network-wide risk picture.
2. Prioritize technology resilience
Operators should prioritize critical network software that can support state-of-the-art security, as well as geographic resilience. Whether an organization chooses to use on-site or third-party cloud environments, they should always ensure that their network data is protected and encrypted, and failover procedures are in place to mitigate the risk associated with common failure scenarios.
3. Develop an incident response strategy
Utility organizations can evaluate the impact of incidents and create a plan to limit damage that might occur. This allows them to create a company-wide damage assessment and incident response strategy for their office and field teams. Doing so can drastically limit the impact of threats. Our customer Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) demonstrated this in action. When Typhoon Faxai hit Japan, they successfully overlaid live geospatial information about blackout locations onto Google Maps data to help engineers swiftly pinpoint damage sites and identify hazards.
4. Continually practice
Operators can regularly host drills to test their IT systems and operational procedures, ensuring software and teams can respond to risks quickly and efficiently. The workforce, as well as physical and virtual infrastructure should be tested to make sure that the network is as resilient as possible. As part of this, organizations can train field teams to ensure they’re prepared for unexpected scenarios and also adapt network assets to limit the effects of edge cases. Doing so will ensure best practices are intertwined with the workforce and procedures.
Preparing for an unpredictable future
The threat landscape is continually growing both in the physical and virtual world. Utility companies need to reassess current risk management models and ensure they are still fit for purpose to continue operating safely and effectively. We have seen how the steps I outlined above have helped our customers successfully create an accurate risk picture that supports a stronger network resilience strategy that is essential for an unpredictable future.