Since 1970, the number of disasters worldwide has quadrupled to around 400 a year. In the U.S., The Economist reported: “According to the UN’s disaster-monitoring system, America sits alongside China and India in suffering the greatest number of natural disasters globally between 1995 and 2015.”

I’ll never forget the Loma Prieta earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1989, which I experienced firsthand early in my career in Silicon Valley. Growing up in California, I’d experienced earthquakes before, but this one really scared me. The ground was moving, and you couldn’t walk anywhere; all you could do was take cover. The thing that really struck me was the devasting impact to critical infrastructure. We didn’t have access to electricity, gas, water, phone lines or other critical services. Before this experience, it was easy to take these things for granted, but in that moment, I realized that everything is fragile. It was a life-changing event.

The increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters illuminates the critical need for utilities and citizens alike to place a laser focus on disaster planning, response and recovery. Unfortunately, man-made and natural disasters have become the new normal, placing an imperative on preparedness to mitigate casualties, minimize damage to infrastructures that deliver vital services and reduce the enormous costs of disasters to literally everyone within their reach.

Seven years ago, Itron began commissioning independent research to gain insights into what utility executives and consumers think about issues surrounding how energy and water are delivered and used. This year, during Itron Utility Week, we presented our latest body of research, the Itron Resourcefulness Insight Report on Disaster Preparedness.

The report summarizes key findings from a survey of more than 500 consumer utility ratepayers and 300 utility executives across the United States. It reveals perceptions on an array of topics relating to disaster preparation, response and recovery, exposing a shared and heightened worry about a disaster striking today compared to five years ago. The survey also brought to light a significant, conflicting gap across consumers and utilities pertaining to the ability of each group to prepare, respond to and recover from disasters. Some of the most notable findings in Itron’s report include:

  • 87% of consumers said they have been impacted by some type of disaster in the past five years
  • 69% of utility executives and 55% of consumers said they are more worried about a disaster striking them today than they were five years ago
  • 68% of consumers believe the increase in weather-related disasters is a result of climate change
  • Utilities ranked cyber-attacks as their top disaster concern

History has proven that natural disasters expose utilities to financial, physical and reputational damage, underscoring that the way they prepare, respond and recover leads to a true make-or-break moment. According to the report, the top investment priorities by utilities to respond to disasters are smart or advanced metering, remote disconnect devices, customer communications systems, outage detection and restoration.

Utilities can harden their systems in the face of the next disaster by identifying likely hazards, assessing vulnerabilities, calculating outage impacts, determining the steps that they can take now and assessing where further investments are needed. Leading-edge smart technology and sensors can help, such as voltage analysis and outage detection and restoration.

Itron’s report is intended to be a starting place for utilities to modernize their plans and procedures. As a community of energy and water providers and suppliers, we have no choice but to prepare for what is coming. The consequences are too great not to.

To download the report, visit: www.itron.com/resourceful. For more, watch my Itron Utility Week keynote presentation.

Marina Donovan
Vice President, Global Marketing and Public Affairs - Itron
Marina Donovan has more than 20 years of global technology marketing and public relations experience with a background in data security, networking and mobile. She joined Itron as vice president of global marketing and public affairs in January 2018. Prior to joining Itron, she was vice president of marketing for Silver Spring Networks.