It seems, at any given moment, you can turn on the TV, or get on social media, or walk into your local grocery store and see people freaking out everywhere around you. Store shelves are empty, businesses are closed, and people are preparing for the worst. However, the world is not, in fact, ending.
Life is going on. Americans are still eating, drinking, and living their lives, albeit while keeping a safe social distance from everyone else.
But it wouldn’t be possible to even do that if it weren’t for the blue-collar workers around the nation who have no choice but to continue working. They make sure you have electricity, that your home is warm and comfortable for your family, that your oven works, and even ensure that your internet and TV services are up to date and working as usual.
Electrical and energy plants are considered “critical infrastructure” and, as such, must remain open to take care of your needs. And this means workers are putting themselves on the front lines nearly every day, just like our health care workers are. These people still have to go to work, have to work with others and have to go out in public to get their job done. Some may even have to stay on site.
Needless to say, I’m sure it can be rather scary.
Company executives at places like the Edison Electric Institute, which is the nation’s largest power industry group, know that lights and gas are essential to American life and so they have to be willing to do whatever possible for their services to continue. Vice president of security and preparedness at Edison Scott Aaronson says, “The focus needs to be on things that keep the lights on and the gas flowing.”
At the same time, their workers need to be cared for and taken into consideration too. The key is in finding a balance that keeps America running and their employees safe and comfortable. For several companies, this may mean cutting staff down to an “essential few” that are to be kept on-site, meaning these workers may be living at the plant for a while.
Aaronson noted that “companies are already either sequestering a healthy group of their essential employees or are considering doing that and are identifying appropriate protocols to do that.”
Some companies like Great River Energy Cooperation in Minnesota, which runs ten power plants and provides electricity to some 1.7 million residents, told Reuters, “We saw this coming.”
Mike McFarland, director of enterprise risk management there, says that the company established a plan for just such a situation back in 2009 when the nation was recovering from the H1N1 pandemic, and so they are prepared. So far, the company has built up quite a large stockpile of cots, blankets, and other necessities should it choose to sequester its essential employees.
Currently, the company is only at its “medium threat level” plan, which means distancing employees from each other and allowing some work to be done remotely. McFarland says that employees would only be sequestered if Minnesota has suddenly hit hard by the virus and that it would be on an “effectively voluntary” basis.
Not all companies are as prepared as Great River Energy, though.
Some are only still in the considering phase, such as the Nuclear Energy Institute, which runs controls America’s nuclear plants. President Maria Korsnick says that some of those plants are “considering measures to isolate a core group to run the plant, stockpiling ready to eat meals and disposable tableware, laundry supplies, and personal care items.”
Others are taking things much further.
Duke Energy, which supplies electricity to some 7.7 million Americans and gas to 1.6 million, is not only talking about making their employees comfortable while on-site but also that they have extra funds, should they need it, according to Statesville, North Carolina Record & Landmark.
Duke Energy announced in a news release that it would be donating $1.3 million to charities within its six-state service footprint and that $100,000 of that would go to its employee fund Relief4Employees. The news release read, “To aid in providing continued service to our customers through this event, Duke Energy will also expand assistance to employees.”
At the end of this crisis, it will be these people, as well as our healthcare workers, who will be the heroes, the ones who kept the lights on and fear of an apocalypse at bay.