Is DougCo prepared for disasters?

Mike McKibbin

By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, CO] A large natural or man-made disaster could stretch Douglas County resources, but electric utility officials told the county commissioners Tuesday it has plans and equipment ready to respond.

Tim Johnson, Douglas County emergency management director, said the county has experienced minor, isolated power outages and works closely with utilities and local emergency response agencies. He added that the county would call those agencies for assistance in a major outage.

"We can get stretched pretty thin if it's a county-wide event," Johnson said. "We can also get help from outside the county, the state and the Colorado National Guard. But the really big things can get really ugly really fast."

Commissioner Abe Laydon noted the county's proximity to the intelligence and military facilities in El Paso County and Colorado Springs. He wondered how Douglas County would handle something like nuclear fallout linked to the Russian war with Ukraine.

"That's a scary but good question to think about," responded Jamey Sample, chief security officer for Xcel Energy.

Sample also warned the war would add to already existing supply chain issues. He said utilities would need to wait 18 to 36 months for new equipment instead of three to 12 months.

CORE mitigating wildfires in DougCo

Andy Minter, transmission operations director for CORE Electric Cooperative, said CORE's 115-kilovolt transmission system provides power to rural areas in and around Castle Rock and Parker.

"Douglas County is the largest part of CORE and it gets the bulk of our investments," he added, "so those areas may have several distribution system options compared to the more rural areas that have only one source" in the event of an outage.

CORE mitigates the chances of a wildfire starting due to a downed power line or other equipment issues. Minter noted crews completed a record amount of tree trimming over the last seven years.

Liz Gardner, area manager for community relations and local government affairs for Xcel, said the utility plans some "significant upgrades" of transmission lines and towers in Douglas and El Paso counties by the end of the year to help reduce wildfire risk.

Cyber attacks a big concern

Cybersecurity has been a national concern since Russia invaded Ukraine, Minter said, and CORE has a plan to quickly isolate areas of its system in a cyberattack. CORE also hired a cybersecurity manager in the last week.

"I don't think we can rule out a multi-pronged attack where we have a wildfire and then get a cyberattack on our system," Sample stated. "Attackers will always try to take advantage of us when we're at our weakest."

Xcel recently took part in its seventh national disaster exercise, Sample added, and found communication "is always the top one or two things we need to plan for."

Sample said Xcel uses satellite, microwave and landline communication methods in disasters. But the main issue is the different communication platforms, vendors and solutions with each agency.

He added that of the last 70 disaster exercises Xcel has participated in, 27 were wildfire-related. Sample also volunteered Xcel would join with the county in such an exercise.

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