Earthquakes Set Stage for Emergency Planning Drill

A companywide exercise in response to a mock 7.8 magnitude earthquake is part of SCE’s ongoing emergency preparedness efforts.
Sep 3, 2019 1:20 PM ET

by Justin Felles 

IRWINDALE, Calif.—Southern California sits in the middle of earthquake territory and eventually the day will come when a damaging quake hits, potentially crippling vital lifelines in the region for days, weeks — even months.

You can never be too prepared. 

As part of its ongoing emergency preparedness planning, Southern California Edison recently hosted a daylong multi-agency drill to simulate a major 7.8 earthquake.  

“Our customers depend on electricity to power their lives, and we work hard to make sure we’re as prepared as possible for natural disasters that could damage our power system,” said Kevin Payne, SCE president and CEO. 

In SCE’s simulation, damage was devastating. Buildings crumbled and roads buckled. Electrical equipment was destroyed, in some cases completely inaccessible. Entire cities were left in the dark, with some customers going on day five without electricity. 

People wanted — even needed — their power back. 

At SCE’s Emergency Operations Center in Irwindale, large computer monitors and TV screens flashed maps with swaths of varying shades of red indicating the most impacted areas. Employees gathered in teams to evaluate the situation and assess the damage. SCE teams were joined by representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Energy, local and county officials and U.S. Geological Survey who observed the drill. 

“It’s like any team. In order to be an effective team, the team has to know what the plan is and, in this case, many of the team members from different departments and organizations developed the plan,” said Carlos Torres, one of the exercise evaluators. “You have to know the plan and you have to live the plan both in real life and a practice situation. The exercise allows you to practice and prepare for the unexpected on dealing with both internal and external stakeholders.”  

The exercise simulated SCE repair crews being dispatched to damaged areas while Public Affairs staff coordinated with state, local and federal officials and fielded calls from business customers with critical issues. The communications staff responded to media inquiries and organized a mock news conference to inform the public, while Customer Service representatives responded to customer questions and concerns. 

The drill was simulated to create complex situations staff might encounter after an earthquake. The situations were challenging — often stressful — to resolve, just as it would be during an actual disaster. 

As part of the exercise, SCE leaders and partner agencies participated in a roundtable discussion to speak realistically about the short and long-term impacts a prolonged outage could have on Southern California, including talks about how resources would be moved in and out of heavily damaged areas. 

SCE has been conducting annual exercises for several years, focusing on a variety of potential scenarios that could affect service ranging from a major cyberattack to a rainstorm. 

“Partnering with federal, state and local planners in our emergency planning helps us all better understand each other and the challenges we face,” said Don Daigler, SCE director of Business Resiliency. “After each drill, we often hear that our partners learn a lot and walk away having a much better understanding of how we work to restore power.”  

The reality is a devastating earthquake will eventually hit Southern California and power, water, gas and other vital systems could be impacted for extended periods. Will you be ready