COVID has prompted electric utility companies to rethink how they can reliably deliver power to customers through pandemics and other disruptions.

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, weeks spent working 12-hour shifts and then living in RV camps 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 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 slip 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.

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