Control rooms are the epicenter of electric utilities – employees working in these rooms are responsible for power flowing onto the electric grid. The control rooms only need about six employees at one time to function.
As Wired put it, the utility control rooms “are small, covered with frequently touched switches and surfaces, and occupied for hours on end by a half-dozen employees.”
Because control rooms could become petri dishes for the spread of viruses, control room employees are undergoing frequent health screenings and the rooms are cleaned thoroughly on a daily basis.
Many utilities are functioning with skeleton crews – meaning only the most essential employees (such as the control room workers) are allowed to work onsite. The safety of the control room employees is crucial because they are not easy to replace if they get sick. In fact, utilities have suggested they may even ask these workers to live onsite during the remainder of the pandemic to ensure these workers remain healthy.
In a statement to Reuters, Scott Aaronson, vice president of security and preparedness at the Edison Electric Institute, stated, “The focus needs to be on things that keep the lights on and the gas flowing.”
While operating with only a skeleton crew would normally cause strain, some of the challenges are minimized because the demand for commercial electricity has decreased in past weeks. While residential demand has increased slightly, utilities have not reported issues with meeting the demand required to keep everyone’s lights on.