The Folks Who Keep Our Lights On All The Time: A Fly on the Wall at The Annual Gathering of Experts

To be fair, I was a little more than just a fly on the wall.  I got to deliver my very favorite message: a hotel room night is a perishable good.  In good news though, if you want to guarantee those rooms will be available to your organization on a contingency basis should you need them for business continuity, there are ways you can work around that.  But that’s another topic for another blog.

Last week I had the genuine honor of attending and presenting at the annual Edison Electric Institute Business Continuity Conference in Kansas City, MO organized by the Edison Electric Institute.  The Institute headquarters out of DC but the conference is held in different member cities and the host this year was Kansas City Power & Light.  (Special thanks to Les Boatwright from KCPL for his terrific presentation on exercising cybersecurity.  It gave me a lot to consider in my own business and with my clients on their drills.  Oh, and hello, barbecue!  Outstanding, which is saying a lot coming from a Texan.)

The conference was productive and informative, and as a fly on the wall, I sponged up everything I could to add to my BC/DR knowledge.  The biggest thing to come out of this for me, though, was the clear indication of how much the electric utilities share, communicate, innovate and plan in order to keep our lights on.  Impressive.

Ed-and-Michelle-selfie

Ed and me. We were evidently very happy to be there!

I was invited to attend by the esteemed Dr. Edward Goldberg who was there representing Northeast Utilities.  He presides as vice-chair of EEI’s Business Continuity Committee but ended up running the entire event, as the actual chair experienced travel delays making her unable to attend at the last minute.  But not to worry – Ed is highly accomplished professional and he did a bang up job.

The conference opened and closed with an impressive and polished color guard provided by KCPL, a nice touch that added a sense of gravity and pride in the importance of the gathering.  This 2-day conference generated conversation between 32 high-level attendees from electric utilities from 19 different states and Ontario.  With such a cross-section of North America, the event gave me a seat at an experienced and knowledgeable table, and throughout the 2 days I was able to really drill down in regional discussions that will ultimately enhance our service to our own customers.  I’m grateful to have been so welcomed and appreciate the insights of everyone I met.  I was surprised that there weren’t more coastal states represented than the eight in attendance, given the season, but then that might be the very reason they were not there!

Educational topics included:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Guaranteed housing
  • Tying together BC, emergency management and risk management through an all-hazards approach
  • Crisis management best practices
  • How utilities can leverage their own workforces to deploy them on secondary assignments to support contingencies
  • Industry benchmark survey results
  • Lessons learned and the ES-ISAC (Electricity Sector Info Sharing Analysis Center)
  • ESCC (Electricity Sub-Sector Coordinating Council): government/industry partnership roles and responsibilities
  • EEI’s own business continuity initiatives
  • A general discussion of what keeps this group up at night – i.e., we lose sleep so the public doesn’t have to

Perhaps the most important part of the discussion in my opinion centered around a new initiative to help keep the entire North American electric grid stable in the event of a calamity.  We’ll post about that next week. It’s great news.

kclp-color-guard

The KCPL Color Guard.

And because we’re all hard-wired with the various fundamentals of our professions (especially when you love what you do), I couldn’t help but make a few observations of the hotel I stayed in.  I know . . . but when you do what I do for a living, it’s hard to just simply “travel.”  Sometimes I wish I could turn it off!We stayed in the Country Club Plaza area of town, which is a great pedestrian mall-type area with tons of dining, shopping and entertainment.  It was designed by J.C. Nichols who began acquiring property for the project in 1907.  Initially branded as “Nichols’ Folly” because the area to be developed was considered undesirable, the Plaza was an immediate success from the time it opened in 1923.  And today, I bet any one of us can name at least 3 places in our own backyard that are designed this same way.

The Sheraton Suites Country Club Plazaisn’t the newest or the fanciest property, but the staff there was one of the best I’ve ever seen and here’s why.

  • There was a couple who’d made repeated attempts to check in over a period of a few hours, and each time they were told that their room wasn’t ready yet (presumably because they needed a very specific room type that wasn’t plentiful at this property).  On there 3rd visit to the front desk, the desk agent came out from behind the desk (during a time when the desk was slow) to sit down and talk with them.  He found out where they’re from, what brought them to KC, etc. and then escorted them to the restaurant to have some wine on the house.  I happened to be sitting in the lobby working on my laptop at the time, and he had no idea what I do for a living.
  • Same for the housekeeper who cleaned my room.  She was actually in it when I went back to pack and check out during our lunch break on the second day . . . and she offered to help me get my things together!  Who does that??
  • And then there’s the bellman who stepped out from behind his desk to do a magic trick for a couple of young kids who were waiting in the lobby. NICE.

I couldn’t be happier to have attended the conference – nor more in debt to Ed – because I learned a lot about how the utilities come together to support each other during an event, how they share best practices and resources and generally support one another.  This was a very experienced group of professionals and I was 100% honored to be a part of their conversation.

In fact, now I might even lose a little less sleep at night.

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Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog (in sidebar at right) and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  To subscribe to our mailing list and/or to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

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