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This FAQ was last updated on June 18, 2020. A PDF version of the updated, which includes changes from the last update marked in red, is also available.

This page is the product of collaborative efforts to gather current information. DOE appreciates everyone’s patience during this dynamic event. Send any updates, concerns or questions to energyresponsecenter@hq.doe.gov. These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) will be updated as new information becomes available.

 

Current Status of DOE Response Efforts

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) has been closely monitoring the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) since January 31. Within CESER, the Emergency Support Function #12 (ESF#12) Energy Response Organization (ERO) continues to support the federal mitigation and response to COVID-19. CESER and the ERO continue to coordinate with federal, state, and energy sector partners to discuss preparations, provide awareness, and assess issues that may require federal support.

The DOE’s ESF#12 Regional Coordinators are at an enhanced watch, supporting activations in the National Response Coordination Center and in many of the FEMA regions. The DOE Regional Coordinators are monitoring and staying in regular contact with states in their designated regions to identify needs.

CESER advises energy sector partners to remain vigilant to cybersecurity threats. Energy sector partners are encouraged to work with the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC), the Downstream Natural Gas ISAC (DNG-ISAC), and the Oil and Natural Gas ISAC (ONG-ISAC) to remain vigilant to cybersecurity threats, including COVID-19 themed phishing emails, and to ensure that the latest cybersecurity guidance is provided to their organizations.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released guidance on defending against video-teleconferencing hijacking.  Alerts were issued in April and May on recommended steps to mitigate Korean cyber-threats and threat groups. On June 16 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an Industrial Control System (ICS) advisory. CESER also urges energy sector companies to assess the full breadth of risk within the supply chain, including that of managed and industry service providers to evaluate how COVID-19 may affect service.

COVID-19 Resources

Government Web Links:

 

Energy Sector Links:  

 

State, Local, Tribal and Territorial Web Links:

 

FAQ

What guidance is available for energy sector personnel & social distancing?

Protective measures for access to homes and businesses in restricted areas should follow CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance:

Non-essential work orders at customer homes or businesses that require workers to enter may be deferred or postponed when possible to preserve PPE for essential emergency work and to protect the health and safety of personnel.

 

Are energy personnel and services considered essential?

CESER worked with industry and DHS to put together a list of essential critical infrastructure workers, which included electricity (across all sources), petroleum, natural gas and propane workers. DHS CISA updated the guidance on essential critical infrastructure workers on May 19, 2020.

The National Governor’s Association (NGA) sent a memorandum to Governors and their Energy Advisors on March 25, 2020, highlighting three areas where Governors can support the energy sector during the pandemic response. The three items identified are:

  1. Ensure critical energy infrastructure employees can be identified and credentialed in the event of a shelter in place order
  2. Critical infrastructure workers may need priority access to testing, PPE, and cleaning supplies
  3. Waivers for fuel carrier standards and commercial driver’s licenses may be needed to move critical utility supplies

On May 6, 2020, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette sent letters to all of the U.S. Governors encouraging support for essential workers in the energy sector. The letter highlighted the joint statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and NARUC urging the consideration of utility workers as essential, as well as FERC’s recent orders and actions to assure the reliable operation of energy infrastructure. The letter is the second from DOE’s Secretary to the states in support of Essential Critical Energy Infrastructure Workers (ECIW). In addition to calling for continued freedom of movement within restricted areas for ECIW, the letter notes that additional measures are needed. It is equally important that ECIW have access to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing services, and cleaning supplies. Reliance on energy is a key interdependency amongst all Critical Infrastructure sectors, making energy reliability and resilience a fundamental need for national safety and security.

 

How can essential personnel gain access to restricted areas?

In cases where access is restricted, the State Emergency Operating Centers (SEOCs) have defined protocols for allowing access for essential personnel. County Public Health Departments are also involved and will have representatives at the SEOC for coordinating purposes. DOE ESF#12 Regional Coordinators are supporting SEOCs virtually and can assist if needed. Send an e-mail to energyresponsecenter@hq.doe.gov if you need to contact your DOE Regional Coordinator.

 

How can my company acquire PPE for essential personnel?

At Secretary Brouillette's direction, the Department of Energy conducted a thorough review of inventories of PPE and other supplies across the DOE enterprise (including our labs, plants and sites across the nation) to assist with the President’s response to COVID-19. The Department, working with FEMA, will make its excess PPE available for the national COVID-19 response, so they may get supplies to the communities in need as quickly as possible.

DOE continues to support the safety and security of the energy sector workforce who maintain the surety of our energy system 24/7. Providing for this vital strategic asset helps maintain the American way of life and underpins the strength of our national security. Energy sector companies are monitoring the availability of PPE for essential workers. Currently the first priority is to ensure PPE is available to healthcare workers and first responders.  

On April 28, 2020, FEMA released a fact sheet with information about the distribution of cloth masks. 

Energy sector companies can connect with local or state energy officials and emergency operations centers in jurisdictions where they operate to identify prioritization of any future needs for PPE.

 

What are the guidelines for optimizing PPE?

Organizations are encouraged to review existing health and safety plans and procedures for opportunities to reduce, reuse, or repurpose PPE. The CDC issued a PPE optimization strategy for use when PPE supplies are stressed, running low, or absent. FEMA issued a PPE preservation best practices fact sheet with the following items:

  1. Reduce usage rate of PPE by modifying normal operations and procedures

  2. Reuse PPE by implementing optimization, decontamination, and reuse procedures

  3. Repurpose alternative types or sources of PPE, including NIOSH-approved respirators in lieu of N-95 FFR for activities for which respiratory protection is required per CDC direction

 

How can my company acquire testing for essential personnel?

On April 27, 2020, the CDC updated the criteria to guide evaluation and laboratory testing priorities. The new guidance identifies two categories; High Priority and Priority.  Decisions about testing remain at the discretion of state and local health departments and/or individual clinicians. The new guidance includes screening of persons without symptoms if prioritized by state or local plans.

CESER is working with multiple FEMA task forces and federal, industry and state partners to identify new testing options and best practices as they become available. Energy industry suppliers and infrastructure operators are identifying “essential” and "mission essential" employees for prioritized COVID-19 testing. More information regarding prioritized testing requests can be found in this industry letter to national organizations representing state and local government leaders. The Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council also updated Testing and Protecting Mission Essential Control Center and Generation Facility Personnel.

On April 23, 2020, CISA released guidance for operations centers and control rooms across the 16 critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, required to operate in a pandemic environment. The guidance recommends prioritized testing by medical professionals for asymptomatic personnel performing essential jobs in support of operations centers and control rooms. Some states have begun prioritizing testing of non-symptomatic essential energy workers prior to sequestration.

The CDC updated the testing overview page with testing strategies in high-density critical infrastructure workplaces after a case is identified and a flowchart. The guidance recommends testing for asymptomatic individuals without known or suspected COVID-19 exposure for early identification in special settings, which includes:

  • High-density critical infrastructure workplaces where continuity of operations is a high priority.

Approaches for early identification of asymptomatic individuals include:

  • Initial testing of everyone residing and/or working in the setting
  • Regular testing of everyone residing and/or working in the setting, and
  • Testing of new entrants into the setting and/or those re-entering after a prolonged absence.

 

What are the different types of covid-19 tests?

There are two types of kinds of tests available for COVID-19 according to the CDC: viral tests and antibody tests. A viral test is used to detect a current infection. An antibody test can detect a previous COVID-19 infection. An antibody test may not show a current infection and should not be used as the only way to diagnose someone as being currently sick with COVID-19. It is not yet known if having antibodies to the virus can protect someone from getting infected with the virus again, or how long that protection might last.

 

What are some measures industry is using for sequestration of essential critical infrastructure workers?

Some energy companies are implementing sequestration protocols for mission essential personnel to ensure the uninterrupted operations of energy functions, including:

  • Conducting workforce analysis to determine the minimum number of mission essential workers needed to ensure uninterrupted operations 
  • Asking for sequestration volunteers with needed skills and setting expectations about duration
  • Organizing “units” or “crews” with appropriate skillsets that will share the same shift, but not be exposed to other personnel
  • Creating a total separation of living, sleeping, cooking, laundry, and rest/entertainment areas for the individual work crews
  • Creating greater physical separation between workstations when possible
  • Providing individually assigned peripheral equipment (e.g., mice, keyboards, chairs)
  • Testing workers for COVID-19 prior to being sequestered
  • Requiring all employees to wear appropriate PPE while working
  • Thoroughly sanitizing work areas at each shift change and regularly during the shifts at high touch points 
  • Implementing pre-site entry wellness questionnaires and temperature checks throughout the shift
  • Requiring workers conducting wellness checks to use social distancing and wear PPE

 

How are wellness checks being implemented in the sector?

Based on the CDC guidance to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and the OSHA guidance to prevent exposure in the workplace many organizations are implementing wellness checks throughout the work shifts of essential workers. The wellness checks may include questions on how the workers are feeling and a temperature check to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. The medical or non-medical professionals conducting the wellness checks should have instructions on how to proceed and who to notify if symptoms of COVID-19 are detected.

The federal government will distribute non-contact infrared thermometers (NCIT) to support phased reopening of states. FEMA announced that states, tribal nations, and territories will be responsible for distributing NCIT and will have significant flexibility as to how they are distributed within their jurisdiction.

The CDC issued guidance for critical infrastructure workers who may have had COVID-19 exposure. Workers who were exposed but remain asymptomatic should adhere to the following practices prior to and during their work shift:

  • Pre-Screen: The employee’s temperature and symptoms should be checked prior to them starting work and ideally before entering a facility.
  • Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee does not have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer.
  • Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a facemask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.
  • Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit.
  • Disinfect and Clean workspaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

What does “shelter in place” and area restrictions mean & how will these orders affect critical energy services?

Some Governors and local government leaders have instituted “Stay at Home” or “Shelter in Place” orders to limit the spread of COVID-19. The orders vary, but generally include provisions to allow essential services to remain open and for essential workers to continue working. Links to these types of orders can be found on the NGA website.

Federal authority is generally limited to preventing the spread of COVID-19 from foreign countries into the United States and through interstate commerce. The FEMA Coronavirus Rumor Control web page has confirmed that there is no national lock-down or quarantine in place.

 

What guidance is out there for workplace reentry & reopening states?

States have begun to lift their “Stay at Home” orders and adopt phased restrictions as outlined by the White House’s guidelines for Opening Up America Again. The CDC has issued guidance identifying community actions that individuals, businesses, and health departments can take to slow the spread of COVID-19. OSHA released guidance on June 17, 2020 to assist employers and workers in safely returning to work.

The ESCC updated their COVID-19 Resource Guide on April 27, 2020, to provide responsible re-entry guidance to the electric sector. Four strategic priorities were identified:

  • “Industry plans for returning to the workplace should be coordinated with state/local governments and executed in phases”
  • “Focus on the health and safety of our workforce and our customers”
  • “Anticipate and address any technology-related challenges and cyber threats associated with the return the workplace”
  • “Clear and consistent internal and external messaging will be critical for…a re-entry plan”

On May 11, 2020, the ESCC Resource Guide was updated to identify additional guidance on responsible re-entry, including engagement with state and local governments and messaging.

FEMA has issued further reconstitution planning recommendations for state, local, tribal, territorial, (SLTT) and private sector stakeholders. The CDC also posted support resources for SLTT and staffing resources for the public health workforce. The NGA issued a state-by-state summary of public health criteria for reopening. The Oil and Natural Gas Subsector Coordinating Council (ONG SCC) released an ONG COVID-19 Responsible Recovery Compendium identifying challenges and mitigation strategies for the different ONG value chains.

 

Will domestic travel restrictions affect access?

Domestic travel advisories are not expected to affect critical services or travel for energy sector employees. The advisories do not apply to employees for critical infrastructure as defined by the Department of Homeland Security essential staff guidance, which includes energy sector services and personnel supporting essential energy services.

The CDC updated travel health notices to include COVID-19 travel recommendations by country. Although the CDC recommends people stay home as much as possible, new guidance for the different modes of travel was issued for when travel is required.

 

What is the current role of the National Guard?

The President issued a Memorandum, offering National Guard troops to support states by operating under Title 32 status. This allows the National Guard to be managed by state Governors, but be funded by FEMA and DHS. Additional detail on National Guard activities in states can be found on the COVID-19 Response website and the FEMA website. On May 6, 2020 the Council of Governors Co-Chairs sent a letter requesting the Secretary of Defense work with the White House to extend the use of Title 32 National Guard operations beyond May 31, 2020.

As of June 17, 2020, nearly 45,000 National Guard members are supporting homeland operations at the direction of their Governors. The current number includes activations for COVID-19, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Air and Army National Guard professionals continue to support the COVID-19 response activities below, but are not limited to:

  • Staffing SEOCs to synchronize National Guard efforts with local and state mission partners to plan and execute an effective response
  • Sewing and distributing masks and protective equipment for mission essential personnel
  • Supporting warehouse operations and logistics efforts to help deliver critical supplies
  • Delivering food in hard-hit communities
  • Providing critical PPE training and delivery to first responders and hospital personnel
  • Supporting local emergency management agencies with response planning and execution
  • Providing support and symptoms screening to testing facilities
  • Providing transportation and assessment support to healthcare providers
  • Assisting with disinfecting/cleaning of common public spaces

 

What are the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico border travel restrictions? 

The United States and Canada, as well as the United States and Mexico are temporarily restricting all non-essential travel across the U.S. border. The restriction allows travel for essential workers and deliveries for supply chains to ensure that food, fuel, and life-saving medicines are maintained. DOE ESF#12 responders are available to work with the FEMA National Response Coordination Center and DHS to coordinate any issues or concerns for critical energy infrastructure located near the U.S. border to allow travel across the border to support critical work. The updated travel restrictions for U.S./Canada can be found here and for U.S./Mexico here.

 

What guidance has been issued to industry to ensure energy reliability amid potential coronavirus impacts?

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), in consultation with FERC, as well as the DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued guidance to provide additional flexibility to operators and staff to help ensure continued operations. Operators for transportation including hazardous liquid and gas pipeline, underground natural gas storage, liquefied natural gas, and bulk electric systems are focusing their resources on keeping people safe and providing critical services during this unprecedented public health emergency. Additional guidance: PHMSA Stay of Enforcement, Guidance for State Partners, and the NERC and FERC Industry Guidance to Ensure Grid Reliability.  

NERC issued a special report Pandemic Preparedness and Operational Assessment assessing the reliability considerations and operational preparedness of the bulk power system owners and operators during pandemic conditions in April and May 2020. NERC included spring, summer and longer-term risks, but did not identify any specific threats or degradation to the reliable operation of the bulk power supply at this time. In June, NERC issued the 2020 Summer Reliability Assessment, noting that protecting critical electric industry workers remains a priority and the risk potential of the wildfire season.

 

Can the use of winter blend fuel continue beyond the May 1 switch to summer blend?

To minimize or prevent the disruption of an adequate supply of gasoline throughout the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a nationwide fuel waiver that waives certain federal fuel standards under the Clean Air Act. This waiver applies to the following regulations:

  • Federal Gasoline Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) Standards require the sale of low-volatility summer gasoline by refiners, importers, distributors, resellers, terminal owners and operators, and carriers beginning May 1. Without a waiver of the summer gasoline requirements, regulated parties would be required to stop selling high-volatility winter gasoline in their storage tanks on May 1. The waiver does not permit refiners to produce gasoline after May 1 that exceeds the summer gasoline standard and does not permit any party to blend butane to cause the gasoline to exceed the summer gasoline standard. Regulated parties must continue to comply with applicable state or local requirements, or restrictions related to RVP, unless waived by the appropriate authorities.
  • Federal Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) Requirements in all RFG covered areas that apply to terminal owners, terminal operators, distributors, carriers, retailers, and wholesale purchaser-consumers. Additionally, EPA is waiving provisions that prohibit combining any RFG blendstock for oxygenate blending with any other gasoline, blendstock, or oxygenate, unless certain conditions are met.

In addition, several states have issued waivers that apply to state-level RVP requirements that typically begin April 1. The EPA has also issued a Memorandum that allows discretion for COVID-19 implications for EPA’s enforcement and compliance assurance programs. For more information on waivers, visit the DOE Energy Waiver Library.

 

How can my company ensure timely and efficient transport of goods and services? Is there an hours-of-service waiver?

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Emergency Declaration

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a Federal Motor Carrier Administration Declaration and an updated Expanded Emergency Declaration that provides regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations that are providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19. An extension was issued on May 13, 2020 allowing regulatory relief until June 14, 2020. On June 8, 2020, FMCSA extended and modified the hour of service waiver for motor carriers to July 14, 2020 but eliminated delivered fuels from this extension.

FMCSA Declaration Information

Emergency Declarations Waivers, Exemptions and Permits

 

What are the effects of COVID-19 on port access?

The Coast Guard has issued multiple Marine Safety Information Bulletins (MSIB) on the Novel Coronavirus. To view the most recent MSIB regarding COVID-19, refer to the Coast Guard MSIB Publications. The Coast Guard recommends that people review the CDC travel guidance and the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories related to COVID-19.

 

What is the current guidance on making hand sanitizer?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Temporary Policy for Preparation of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products. For additional guidance on how to comply with these requirements, contact FDA at COVID-19-HandSanitizers@fda.hhs.gov.

 

What are the respiratory protection recommendations to mangage the spread of COVID-19?

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an enforcement guidance memorandum for Respiratory Protection. The guidance outlines enforcement discretion to permit the extended use and reuse of respirators and the use of respirators beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life.

The CDC issued guidance on April 3, 2020 for the public to wear cloth face coverings in public settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 

How is industry and the federal government preparing for response during the pandemic?

The Electric Subsector Coordinating Council has a dedicated team analyzing how restoration processes and procedures may need to be modified given the known health risks. During non-health emergencies, such as severe storms, electric utilities, independent power producers and suppliers often accelerate power restoration by bringing in additional skilled workers from organizations and contractors outside the area through mutual assistance. These mutual assistance processes were demonstrated between March 28 and April 14, 2020 when severe weather impacted the Southern and Eastern portions of the U.S. For these responses, the mutual aid process brought in additional workers and equipment from nearby utilities and contractors to assist with assessment and repair. Crews utilized PPE and social distancing per the CDC and OSHA guidelines to perform their restoration duties. The ESCC Resource Guide reflect that COVID-19 safety procedures did not create significant delays in restoration efforts with some opportunities to prepare for future responses.

DOE, FEMA, and industry partners are preparing for hurricane season, which officially starts June 1, 2020. FEMA issued a news release encouraging response organizations to adjust their hurricane preparedness measures in the midst of fighting COVID-19. FEMA issued the “COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for 2020 Hurricane Season” to help response organizations and public health officials prepare for disasters, while continuing to respond to and recover from COVID-19. The guidance includes preparedness and response checklists, public message examples, and other resources.

 The CDC issued interim guidance on reducing risk of transmitting COVID-19 in disaster shelters before, during, and after a disaster. The CDC also issued interim guidance to reduce the risk of introducing and transmitting COVID-19 in cleaner air shelters and spaces, where people can seek relief from wildfire smoke.

The NGA issued a memo with planning considerations for concurrent emergencies during the on-going COVID-19 health crisis. The memo encourages Governors to work across the emergency management enterprise to prepare for a confluence of events to ensure that their states are ready to protect lives and property.

CISA issued an alert to remain vigilant for malicious cyber activity targeting potential disaster victims and charitable donors following a hurricane.

FEMA released a Preparedness in a Pandemic Exercise Starter Kit with resources state, local, tribal and territorial governments can use to conduct their own workshops on preparedness in a pandemic.

 

Does the Commerical Paper Funding Facility extend to issuers that provide utilties with access to short-term debt?

The Federal Reserve Board established a Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF) on March 17, 2020, to support the flow of credit to households and businesses. The CPFF will provide a liquidity backstop to U.S. issuers of commercial paper through a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that will purchase unsecured and asset-backed commercial paper rated A1/P1 directly from eligible companies.

Many companies active in sectors that represent essential infrastructure, and include electric, natural gas, and water utilities, are rated as Tier 2. On April 2, 2020, eighty-one members of Congress signed a letter to the Federal Reserve calling for the extension of the CPFF to commercial paper issuers in the Tier 2 commercial paper market and in sectors designated as critical infrastructure under the Presidential Policy Directive on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience (PPD-21). On April 7, 2020, FERC and NARUC, in support of EEI, the American Gas Association, and the National Association of Water Companies, asked the Federal Reserve to extend access to short-term debt financing for electric, natural gas and water utilities. Specifically the request was to extend the CPFF purchasing to commercial paper programs that are rated at A2/P2/F2 Tier 2 by at least two of the major credit rating agencies.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues the American Public Power Association (APPA) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) have expressed concerns to Congressional leaders on the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s electric cooperatives and the public power (municipal) utilities.

 

Are there new “call before you dig” guidelines?

April is National Safe Digging Month. While some areas of the country are seeing typical digging activity, others are emphasizing online requests or discouraging nonessential digging. Visit www.call811.com for more information about safe digging. Social media messages and other resources to promote the safe digging can be found at PHMSA and the Common Ground Alliance.

 

What is contact tracing and how does it apply to energy infrastructure critical workers?

 

Contact tracing is a strategy employed by local and state health department personnel with specialized training to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing is one part of the process to control the spread of the disease, supporting patients, and warning contacts of exposure. To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them. The CDC released a Contact Tracing Training Plan and resources for medical professionals and local health department personnel. The ESCC drafted a set of planning considerations that can help the electric power industry develop approaches that fit local conditions. Some local and state governments are also launching contact tracing programs to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC issued guidance on digital contact tracing tools and preliminary criteria for health departments evaluating the tools. For proximity tracking technologies, the CDC also provides guidance for users who elect to share data to ensure patient confidentiality. The CDC developed interim guidance to assist state, local, territorial, and tribal health departments in developing jurisdictional plans for the implementation and enhancement of COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing efforts. The CDC released confidentiality and consent guidance and noted that all aspects of case investigation and contact tracing must be voluntary, confidential, and culturally appropriate. The CDC guidance was updated on June 18, 2020 and includes a spreadsheet-based tool to assist state and local officials compare contact tracing strategies.