Monday, April 27, 2020

Op Centers and Control Rooms Guide for Pandemic Response

Last week CISA published a new guidance document addressing the operations of Op Centers and Control Rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic. The document provides planning considerations and mitigation measures for the continued operation of these facilities while taking into account the need for protecting critical personnel.

The Guide provides an overview of items to be considered along with links additional information. The topics discussed include:

• Coordination with federal, state, and other authorities.
• Communication and information sharing.
• Key mitigation measures – protecting personnel.
• Key mitigation measures – protecting equipment.
• Key mitigation measures – workforce planning.
• Key mitigation measures – in the event of exposure.

As a footnoted reference, the Guide provides a link to Electric Subsector Coordinating Council’s (ESCC) “Assessing and Mitigating the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)” which discusses many of the same topics in more detail.


While hindsight is 20:20, this document would have been timelier if it had been issued two-months ago. This would have provided management with some time for planning for and then executing the recommended actions. Implementing them now is going to be problematic without methods in place for identifying personnel that have been exposed to the underlying COVID-19 virus or have successfully fought off the disease. Having said that, I still think this is a worthwhile document.

There is one item in the recommendations in this document to which I take exception. Under “Key mitigation measures – protect personnel” the Guide includes:

“Create greater physical separation of operations center and control room operator workstations, increase ventilation or utilize adjacent rooms where possible, and reduce or eliminate interactions across shifts (emphasis added).”

I completely understand the need for as much internal isolation as possible to restrict the possible spread of the COVID-19 virus, anything that hampers the communication between shifts at shift change increases the chance of misunderstanding the current state of the process and on-going measures to control or monitor that state. I would have worded the final phrase to read:

“… and reduce or eliminate the physical interactions across shifts while ensuring the effective sharing of shift-change information.”

The more detailed information in the ESCC document provides an important discussion about personal protective equipment. It notes that full- and half-face respirators are acceptable substitutes for the N-95 respirator protections. Since these respirators are more readily available at many process facilities and personnel have already been trained on their wear and care, this is probably a more useable protective device for those organizations.

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