September 25, 2016 - 

In the last month, the CPUC and the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). It’s the result of over a year of discussions between the CPUC and Cal OES about our respective roles and emerging issues. The effort kicked off with CPUC President Picker’s discussion with Cal OES Director Ghilarducci about the need to bring our agencies closer together and establish a foundation for ongoing collaboration on key emerging issues, including physical and cyber security.

Building a closer relationship with Cal OES was an historic change for the CPUC. When I joined the CPUC about five years ago, the prevalent thought was that the CPUC didn’t have a direct role in emergency response, since we were a regulatory agency and not first responders. From a policy perspective, we were focused on working with utilities to develop better emergency response plans for them, but we didn’t have the same focus on our own role during events. The more I worked with staff on the review of utility emergency response plans, the more clear it became to me that CPUC has some work to do in that area as well.

While it may not be intuitive to some, the CPUC has important responsibilities during emergencies that involve infrastructure under our jurisdiction. In an emergency, the CPUC’s various roles to promote safety and enforcement include:

  • Dispatching trained staff to the scene of the incident to investigate and identify potential violations of laws or policies
  • Monitoring the response of the regulated entities (and coordinating with their emergency response plans)
  • Providing accurate and timely information regarding utility and system safety to media outlets during any emergency
  • Coordinating with government officials to disseminate near-term information to the public
  • Supporting CalOES and providing assistance to other government agencies that have a more direct role in emergency responses
  • Ensuring internal CPUC communication regarding the incident

In the last five years, the CPUC has come a long way in understanding and formalizing the agency’s role during emergencies. We have trained key staff in National Incident Management System (NIMS), developed Internal Emergency Response Plan and Protocols, implemented an internal Safety Alert system, and have now formalized our relationship with Cal OES in an MOU. Even prior to signing the MOU, the CPUC and Cal OES collaborated closer than ever during the Southern California Gas Company leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility, working side by side on a daily basis.

It’s a nice moment to have the MOU completed. It symbolizes that a lasting partnership is important to the leadership of both organizations. I also look forward to continuing working with Cal OES, which has become one of my favorite parts of my job.

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