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Volume 32, Issue 3

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air-forceOn April 25, 2011, a tornado strikes the Midwest, wreaking havoc on cities and towns throughout the region. This system slowly progresses east into Ohio, spawning a record number of tornados. As a result, a tornado watch is initiated for the Miami Valley, including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) in Dayton, Ohio.

The next morning, local weather agencies elevate the watch to a warning, and personnel are directed to shelter in place as an EF3 tornado touches down near WPAFB. Fortunately, the tornado “skips,” limiting damage. No lives are lost, and there is no immediate damage to the base.

Unfortunately, the tornado completely destroyed an electric substation, the only electrical power feed to a large portion of the base. In addition, the tornado took out about five miles of power lines/towers and debris blocks access roads to many base gates. Initial estimates for power restoration is five to seven days, but as time wears on it becomes clear that power will not be restored for at least 30 days.

This was the scenario presented to participants in Wright Grid 2011, a strategic-level table top exercise executed at WPAFB.

In September 2010, Air Force Materiel Command Commander (AFMC/CC) General Donald Hoffman asked, “What would happen if the power went out at WPAFB for 30 days or longer?”

The AFMC Civil Engineer Operations Division (A7O) took the lead to answer this question by developing a table-top exercise (TTX), which came to be known as Wright Grid 2011 (WG11). As part of their efforts, the A7O WG11 team completed an extensive literature review on energy security and reviewed recent energy-centric TTXs to include Secure Grid 09, Secure 10, and Cyber Shock 2011. From this, the A7O WG developed the TTX objectives, set expectations, identified participants, and developed three training venues using the crawl-walk-run process.

For those not familiar with the crawl-walk-run process, the idea is to bring all participants up to the same level of understanding in a step-wise approach. First, the WG11 team developed the crawl event, the knowledge seminar. This event facilitated a common foundational knowledge and understanding for all participants. As part of this, functional experts briefed their programs and responsibilities in regards to the above scenario, identifying areas of concern from their respective standpoint.

Second, the AFMC WG11 Team developed the walk event, the walk-through. This event walked participants through a short, related scenario, allowing them to understand facilitated exercise dynamics and feel more comfortable with the table-top/strategic-level guided discussion environment.

These efforts culminated in the run event, WG11 exercise. This full-day event included more than 75 participants from the headquarters, base level, the local electric utility provider, as well as observers. These observers included industry and government subject matter experts on energy security and assurance as well as critical participants from the local community.

wrightAt the start of the table-top exercise itself, all participants were provided strategic-level background briefs coupled with weather updates based on the scenario development. Expert facilitators and subject matter experts teamed together to focus discussions on initial response actions. WG11 participants then broke into two groups – mission and mission support – and were asked to look at longer-term impacts to an extended power outage scenario. The mission breakout session focused on how to degrade their operations gracefully while still ensuring mission success. The mission support breakout session focused on sustainment and restoration of support functions, utilities, and energy commodities. The expert facilitators and subject matter experts continued to provide their support during the breakout sessions. At the end of the day, all participants gathered together to highlight their major findings identified during the breakout sessions, which were subsequently outbriefed to General Hoffman.

Many gaps and seams were identified during WG11. Some of the more critical findings are as follows:

Emergency and Standby Generators

  • Long-term refueling plans for emergency and standby generators are not fully developed. In the event of a long-term power outage, refueling of day tanks becomes a resource constrained initiative.
  • Many of the base’s emergency generators are oversized, resulting in increased operations and maintenance costs, probability of load transfer failure, decreased life, or premature failure.
  • The emergency and standby generators are not always tested against full facility loads. This is due to the fact that agencies authorized these generators typically do not want their facility put on back-up generation during monthly testing of generators. Generators are either not tested at all or against load banks, which do not test the reliability of the entire system.
  • Non-mission critical facilities have no plans or provision for connecting standby generators. Non-mission critical facilities may become mission critical as outages persist; it may become necessary to connect a generator to a once non-mission critical facility.

Energy Security Issues

  • Microgrids with manual control are current options for assured electrical power and are used at many Air Force bases. Using this concept, several larger generators at an installation provide power for several mission-critical facilities, improving efficiency and reliability of power.
  • Next generation nuclear power is a long-term (15+ year) option requiring further investigation and consideration.
  • The commercial sector utilizes a spare transformer exchange program called STEP. The Air Force has a formalized program for generators but not yet for transformers.
  • A follow-on symposium is needed to further delineate the mid- and long-term options of back-up generation. Additionally, engineering and technical scenarios and solutions need to be explored and addressed.

Continuity of Operations (COOP) Plans

  • Though robust and mature, COOP plans require further refinement to ensure they capture actions taken during various scenarios to include a disaster confined to the agency’s facility(ies), a pandemic, and a regional disaster. This includes identifying secondary and tertiary alternate work locations during a localized disaster as well as promulgating guidance on teleworking in the event that personnel are not able to report to work.
  • COOPs are not always adequately exercised on an annual basis.
  • Mission-essential personnel do not always understand their full roles and responsibilities.


  • The server systems on a portion of the base are on back-up generation, but the air conditioning system which cools the server system is not.
  • There is no way to ventilate this facility naturally or with fans/blowers. Therefore, there is a high probability of loss of some communications in the event of a power outage.

Emergency Authorities

  • There are emergency authorities (ex: 1950 Defense Production Act) that may support local utilities when restoring power to a government installation. This may expedite repairs or installation of new power lines to the installation, voiding right-of-way and easement requirements. Further investigation of these authorities is necessary.

An after-action report is currently in development to capture all the gaps and seams identified during WG11. In addition, the WG11 team is developing a WG11 playbook or exercise template. This template will serve as a guide for other bases to perform their own exercises, ultimately to help them determine how they would sustain their missions during an extended power outage.

From the 2003 blackout impacting the northeastern United States and Canada to the recent extreme weather conditions that struck the continental United States, the above scenario is not out of the realm of possibilities. Exercising these contingency scenarios on an annual basis will help ensure energy security and assurance for continued mission operations.

Col. Douglas P. Wise is the chief civil engineer operations division, directorate of communications, installations, and mission support with HQ Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He directs a 34-person professional staff responsible for implementing higher headquarters directives; developing major command guidance and policy; and providing command-wide program oversight pertaining to base engineering support, facilities energy, fire and emergency services, readiness and emergency management; and explosive ordinance disposal operations.