COVID-19 has upended the lives of many Americans. Its path of destruction knows no boundaries. We eagerly await the creation of a vaccine or other therapy to stop this menace in its tracks. Such work is underway. Safi Bahcall in the Wall Street Journal writes that “…nearly all the major players in drug discovery and development have taken matters into their own hands. The goal of their insider-only collaboration is to accelerate the creation of a vaccine or cure.” (06May2020)
Meanwhile, a team of MISO leadership (Incidence Management Team—IMT) met daily for months to research, discuss and plan how best to protect MISO employees and stakeholders from the scourge of this pandemic while ensuring the reliable transmission of electricity. The men and women of the IMT are not educated or trained in medicine or public health. Yet, it fell upon the IMT to neatly fit together all the parts for MISO, including ensuring employee health and safety, cleaning and sanitizing the MISO buildings, deciding if some MISO employees should work from home, keeping employees and stakeholders informed and most importantly, keeping the control center operators healthy in their closed environment. Not only were these weighty decisions, but an element of speed also hung over the IMT as the COVID 19 infection rates grew by the hundreds in most states.
The IMT has been created to support MISO’s needs through a more flexible, manageable, and predictable incident management team structure. The previous Crisis Management Team (CMT) and MISO Operations Advisory Team have been retired, and the IMT is in place while the COVID-19 pandemic tests the team’s skills and resolve.
The IMT wisely called upon the expertise of epidemiologists, public health physicians and governmental agencies to gather current data and recommendations on how to address the health and safety of MISO employees and stakeholders. The collaboration was key. Multiple, intense, and lengthy discussions were held so that important decisions could be made. Now, the Incident Management Team (IMT) meets twice during the week to discuss important next steps for MISO in what will be the new, “new normal” in the months ahead as some MISO employees return to work at the MISO offices.
Three members of the IMT agreed to be interviewed for this article (Rob Benbow, Patrick Brown, and Wayne Schug). Serving as the Incident Commander for the IMT during a two-week stint, Wayne Schug believes it was not difficult for the IMT to move forward on most of the challenges the IMT faced. “While we did not always reach consensus, we always had good conversations with everyone sharing their point of view and concerns,” according to Schug. “Despite differing initial opinions, everyone aligned quickly and moved forward rapidly once a decision was made.”
Patrick Brown thinks the IMT functioned very well—especially as a cross-functional team. “The IMT improved as it went along. Roles and responsibilities needed to be well-defined to prevent duplication. Some issues grew more complex as they were being debated. For example, the committee did not envision that the extended work-from-home would apply to 90% of the MISO workforce,” Brown said. The IMT dealt with myriad employee-related issues for the work-at-home employees as well as those working on site. “Employee benefits, expanded employee assistance programs that will continue when MISO employees return to work, financial counseling and knowing where employees would go if they needed to be tested for the coronavirus are some of many examples of decisions thoughtfully made by the IMT. It was about the employees,” according to Brown.
Rob Benbow gives the IMT a grade of “B” during COVID-19. “Issues that MISO needs to address moving forward are how we return to normal for all employees? How do operations return to normal and what changes do we make long-term for MISO operations?” Rob Benbow observes. He believes that bringing in subject matter experts on COVID-19 was a smart move by the IMT. On the other hand, he thinks that communications should have been faster and got off to a slow start. “The pandemic plan was out of date and still needs to be completed as to what we have learned and what we have done,” he added.
These IMT members did not hesitate to praise the efforts of the MISO employees and contractors who adapted, did their jobs well, and forged ahead. MISO business functions continue. “It’s at times like these that MISO’s people shine even more brightly than normal. And that goes beyond the IMT to every part of MISO, “ Schug said.