RIA readies itself for ‘Black Start’ power outage exercise May 16

By Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public AffairsMay 11, 2022

RIA readies itself for ‘Black Start’ power outage exercise May 16
Scott Bach, chief, Engineering Services, Directorate of Public Works, U.S. Army Garrison Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, stands at the site of two of the several back-up generators being tested during the installation’s Energy Resilience Readiness Exercise on May 16. (Photo by Staci-Jill Burnley, RIA Garrison Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Staci-Jill Burnley) VIEW ORIGINAL

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – This island installation will be conducting an Energy Resilience Readiness Exercise dubbed “Black Start” on May 16 to test installation emergency and standby energy generation systems, critical infrastructure and equipment. The results of the exercise will inform senior leaders the infrastructure requirements to support critical missions on the installation in the event of a power outage.

Next Monday, the power to RIA will go off at approximately 4 a.m. and is expected to be off for two to eight hours depending on the location.

During that time, the buildings that have back-up power should automatically switch to a generator within a couple of minutes.

“Loss of power can have impacts to mission operations and mission capabilities either degraded or result in complete failure,” said Col. Todd Allison, commander, RIA Garrison. “Black Start exercises are designed to test the military’s resilience in the face of a major power outage or other utilities failures.”

Unplanned power outages could result from a major storm, sabotage, or a distant terrorist attack on the power grid.

The exercise allows for the assessment of systems and their interdependencies, while providing a roadmap for future improvements in order to continue the mission with minimal disruption, Allison explained.

“On the local installation level, this will allow us to see ourselves in actuality versus theory. We often think we know we have the measures in place for a real-world event, but this exercise will demonstrate if that is truly the case,” Allison said.

He added that the exercise will test the installation’s energy infrastructure to include redundant systems. Like all exercises, the intent is to assess processes and procedures, as well as equipment, in order to maintain or limit loss of mission capability.

“We have had a few island-wide power outages for very short duration -- less than 2 hours -- due to storms, high winds or other issues,” said Scott Bach, chief, Engineering Services, Directorate of Public Works, RIA Garrison. “We understand that we have very few areas of the installation that have backup generation systems and we are hoping this exercise will help demonstrate a need for more backup generation capability.”

Only a handful of Army installations will be conducting a similar exercise this fiscal year. The requirement for this exercise comes from a Department of Defense directive, Bach said.

“We were selected by U.S. Army Materiel Command to be one of the Army installations conducting a Black Start Exercise this fiscal year,” Bach said.

The Navy and Air Force are also conducting similar exercises this fiscal year, he said.

While RIA has several generators, only a few will be in use during the exercise. The generators range from 6 kilowatts to 2.2 megawatts in size, Bach said, of which all are currently diesel powered.

“We will be looking at what portions of the outage happen as anticipated, and learning from what doesn’t happen as anticipated,” Bach explained. “The secondary objective of this event is to test the emergency action plans of all agencies and the Emergency Operations Center procedures.”

During the exercise, agencies like Child/Youth Services, Island Oasis, the gym, Outdoor Recreation and Leisure, and the USO will be closed.

To lessen the impact to personnel working and living on the installation, RIA leadership determined that this would be a “pre-announced” exercise, Bach explained.

“In the event of an eight-hour power outage most installation services would be closed [anyway], so we are just allowing personnel to know before the event. The [health] clinic will almost certainly be working in a reduced capacity until the outage is over,” Bach said.

If, for some reason, power doesn’t come on with generators, the DPW will have personnel prepared to respond to any issues with the generators. If an observer in an area reports a generator power issue, DPW will respond, Bach said, adding DPW and personnel will analyze issues and work to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

Other major mission partners and agencies will also be providing observers to support the exercise. The exercise will be controlled out of the Incident Command managed by DPW, and the Emergency Operations Center managed by Directorate of Operations, RIA Garrison.

Bach said oversight for the exercise is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- Lincoln Laboratory for the Department of the Army. The lab is a DOD funded research and development center chartered to apply advanced technology to problems of national security.

MIT – Lincoln Lab will compile a report on the exercise, as will DPW and DOO, Bach said. The DPW and DOO will prioritize the findings with the Garrison commander and the RIA senior mission commander and begin developing actions to address the findings.

“Success is multi-faceted, and even what could be classified to an outsider as a ‘failure’ is actually a success,” Allison said. “We will be able to evaluate ourselves and our systems’ interdependencies and identify systems and subsystems that are not resilient. We also can shape the future development and implementation of preventative measures to ensure mission continuity.”