The state of New Jersey recently executed an initiative known as NJ Pilot Light 2017 (NJPL), an exercise designed to evaluate the resiliency of the natural gas sector in the face of a hypothetical mid-winter gas outage. Participants included most gas suppliers in the state as well as the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security.
How the NJ Pilot Light 2017 is Unique
Most electric and gas utility drills I have been a part of have been largely internally focused – that is, they are often designed to ferret out opportunities to improve internal emergency plans and protocols. The NJ Pilot Light 2017 initiative was conducted by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU), and was designed specifically to evaluate the utilities’ interactions with government agencies as well as utilities in other sectors such as electric and water.
The NJ Pilot Light 2017 exercise identified a variety of strengths and weaknesses, the full list of which can be found here. To summarize, the strengths included social media tools, mutual assistance plans and processes, emergency fuel allocation processes, Incident Command Center (ICS) implementation, and information dissemination. Weaknesses included interconnections / supply alternatives between multiple gas distribution companies, worker credentialing, satellite phone usage, and critical customer service and prioritization.
I applaud the BPU’s efforts to understand the competency of the state’s natural gas sector. Too often, the execution of exercises and drills is left solely to the local utilities, and for good reason since this is the most important place to practice emergency response. But states should also get involved, and the NJ Pilot Light 2017 seems like an excellent model for other states to follow.