security, or that exacerbate the consequences of attacks on the system. Clearly, regaining some of the workforce stability that characterized this industry in years past, while also adding to the technical depth and knowledge of the future workforce, will be an essential part of reducing the risks that terrorism poses to the electric power delivery system.
A partial solution to the workforce issue that is relevant to DHS and other federal agencies, at least in the short term, concerns the severe H1-B visa limits, currently 65,000 per year—with high competition from many industries. Electric power in the United States has greatly benefited for over 100 years from the talents of tens of thousands of immigrant engineers, including those from industry giants such as Tesla and Steinmetz. A very high proportion of U.S. graduate students in electric power today are not U.S. citizens, but many would choose to work in the U.S. power industry following graduation if allowed. Assuming that appropriate and timely background security checks can be conducted for immigrant students and others with the necessary skills, they could provide needed talent and expertise in both academic and industrial environments. Obviously, adequate numbers of student visas are also required.
Recently, the threat of a pandemic has become an area of much concern because of both the threat to life and the disruption of the services provided by those afflicted. The threat presents unique implications, and it exposes many points of vulnerability across the electric power system infrastructure. Should a pandemic occur—whether naturally or by malicious action—it will touch every part of the electric system in ways few have considered. Recognizing the potential societal and economic impact of a pandemic, the U.S. government and the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) have issued advisories to the electric industry on the need for preparedness plans.
Many businesses today have implemented business continuity and emergency preparedness plans. Those plans that address high absentee levels are an important tool to ensure that critical business activities are sustainable in the event of various possible extreme situations, including health emergencies. This is particularly relevant to an industry that has relied on mutual assistance agreements in responding to catastrophic events.
Since 2003, of the 270 people known to be infected with avian flu, 164 have died (WHO, 2007). To date, 10 countries across three continents have reported confirmed human cases of avian flu. As a result, avian flu is now being described by health officials as a possible pandemic. The late Lee Jong-wook, former director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) noted, “It is only a matter of time before an avian flu virus ... acquires the ability to be transmitted from human to human, sparking the outbreak of human pandemic influenza. We don’t know when this will happen. But we do know that it will happen” (Knox, 2005). As with other catastrophic events (e.g., hurricanes, earthquakes flooding), that the risk exists is known; however, the full impact is difficult to predict. Unlike the effects of other catastrophic events, the damage caused by a pandemic will not, by definition, be limited to a single geographic region. A pandemic can affect businesses nationally and internationally, with a primary impact on both staff and the public at large. Yet as a business continuity risk, the prospect of a pandemic can best be approached by organizations acting on a regional basis.
When a pandemic does occur, it has both social and economic impacts. The private sector and government must be prepared to manage both. The social impacts directly relate to the health and well-being of employees, customers, and business partners. Understanding how to manage the social impacts of this threat is critical and should be the focus of planning for a pandemic. A pandemic can also have major financial consequences as a result of disruption of operations or loss of key vendors or suppliers. These can directly affect an organization’s ability to recover from the event and resume normal operations. Understanding and managing both aspects of the business impact is a prerequisite to effectively and efficiently dealing with the threat of a pandemic.
In the event of a pandemic, the electric power industry, unlike some organizations, cannot completely shut down if a high percentage of the workforce is absent. Essential services such as health care, water and sewer systems, as well as basic economic activity depend on electricity to operate. Thus it is essential that the electric industry continue to develop and refine plans to address the business and human capital risks associated with a pandemic. These plans will help to ensure business continuity in the event of a pandemic and can be a natural extension to existing business continuity plans.
It should be recognized that no organization has unlimited resources to tackle a pandemic scenario. The only rational way to prepare for a pandemic is to focus on those operations that are mission critical and people-dependent. Such plans should create a leadership succession process, cross-train people to perform multiple critical business functions, include a crisis health and sanitation plan, provide for advance employee training, and include a communication and information dissemination plan.
• Robust background screening programs for all personnel need to be uniformly implemented across the electric power industry. These programs not only should apply to new employees but also should include members of the existing workforce who are staffing critical operational positions and to all contractors and others with direct or indirect access to such facilities.
• Pre-event training programs need to be developed to ensure that utility workers, as first responders, are