Free Procedure Template

Procedure TemplateI’m in a giving mood today, so here for your use is a free procedure template. I’ve used it many times to document compliance with NERC reliability standards. Feel free to use it in your own work, to document internal corporate policies; just don’t put your name on it and sell it as your work.

Procedure Template [MS Word document]

While there is no one true way to format a procedure, the essential elements of a credible document include:

  • Approval information (name and title of the person approving, and the date of approval).
  • Effective date and version number.
  • Procedure title and company name.
  • Applicability (list of the positions, departments, and internal functions to which the procedure applies).
  • Procedures (the step-by-step detailed instructions).

Other beneficial procedure document sections include:

  • Purpose—a description of the goal, approach, and general scope of the problem being addressed.
  • References—other material that implementing personnel will require in order to complete the procedure, as well as materials that generally provide context or guidance (such as relevant regulations).
  • Definitions—terms with special meaning.
  • Data retention—guidelines regarding the preservation of data and documentation.
  • Version history—helpful information on how the procedure for a certain subject has changed over time.

One more recommendation… Write instructions using active voice and second-person perspective. When written in passive voice, procedures that are meant to read like instructions often read like descriptions of usual activity, and thus end up sounding like suggestions. Even if your staff understand that the procedures are mandatory, auditors may not take them that way. Of course, pay special attention to the use of words such as “may” and “should”. Instead use “must” and “shall”.

PowerUp: The Linemen’s Dance

Alison Orr’s Fork Lift Danceworks previously collaborated with firefighters and sanitation workers. In September, the company produced PowerUp, a choreographed performance by more than 50 of Austin Energy’s linemen, technicians, and other personnel. The 90 minute dance included bucket trucks, cranes, manholes, and 20 utility poles.

KLRU’s Arts in Context documented the event:

What is an Adequate Level of Reliability?

NERC recently closed comments on its revised definition of an adequate level of reliability. I’m confused, though. Doesn’t section 215 of the Federal Power Act already state that reliability standards are “to provide for reliable operation of the bulk-power system,” where “’reliable operation’ means operating the elements of the bulk-power system… so that instability, uncontrolled separation, or cascading failures of such system will not occur?” It’s certainly what my managers at FERC used to think—that there couldn’t be a transmission event without someone having violated a standard!

In contrast, some Australians are starting to wonder if they’re paying to much for power supply more reliable than necessary. And at home in the United States, one Wall Street Journal columnist suggests that we should do a better job of preparing for blackouts, since we’ll never eliminate them.

And about that adequate level of reliability definition [PDF]… All they’ve managed to come up with is four pages of circular logic—the state the bulk electric system will achieve when standards are followed. Sheesh!

War of Currents Playing Cards

Just a quick note (because it’s Friday afternoon and there’s only 3 days left to contribute), there’s a War of Currents playing card set up on Kickstarter. If you’re not familiar with it, Kickstarter is a platform for crowdfunding creative projects. For this project, a contribution of $10 or more will also get you the deck of cards.

The War of Currents playing cards will portray Nikola Tesla as the King for Clubs and Spades, and Thomas Edison as King for Hearts and Diamonds. Two information cards with the deck will provide a brief history of the war of currents.

Burying Power Lines

Burying power lines (also called “undergrounding” by engineers) seems like an obvious way to improve reliability. Those of us in the industry are used to seeing interest in this idea surge at the local and state level every winter, with another bump sometimes after hurricane season! An honest study of the costs and benefits, however, reveals a more complex picture, one in which the true value of undergrounding is highly dependent on local conditions.

The assumption by most people is that burying power lines will reduce the amount of time they spend without power. And it’s true that buried lines are less likely to experience outages, though it’s probably not as much an advantage as people think. Underground lines can be affected by flooding, digging, corrosion, and tree roots. When a line is underground, it’s also much more difficult to locate and isolate a problem. Thus when there are problems with buried power lines, the lines tend to remain out-of-service for longer.

Speaking of problems, let’s address maintenance, where again the story is not so simple. Getting to underground lines requires more time, bigger crews, and heavier equipment. On the other hand, compared to overhead lines, vegetation management is a lot simpler and can be performed at significantly reduced cost. Buried lines also avoid clearance issues in commercial areas.

Construction of new underground lines is a lot more expensive than putting up overhead lines for similar reasons to the cost of maintenance. [See the video below for a walk-through of the underground construction process.]

Other significant factors affecting the cost-benefit calculation include aesthetics and safety, both of which typically support undergrounding. Simply put, people don’t like looking at poles and lines in their neighborhoods. Exactly how much of an affect there is would be difficult to say, but the analysis usually assumes that overhead lines negatively impact property values. Safety is a factor mostly because of the poles. Tens of thousands of accidents and a significant percentage of vehicle fatalities involve utility poles.

Yes, it would be nice to have those lines and poles out of the way. The question is, are we willing to pay the price?

Cybersecurity and the Aftermath of the 2003 Blackout: An Alternate History

Do you think of NERC as big brother and the reliability standards as micromanaging your business. Imagine, if you will, something really sinister. Imagine a response to the blackout that included the takeover and centralized control of all transmission and distribution networks, as well as other infrastructure systems.

That is what Ubisoft has imagined in the company’s upcoming video game, Watch Dogs. Check it out: