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Research Questions

  1. What is the status quo of electrical power architecture at Air Force installations in the continental United States?
  2. How can Air Force installations assess their level of energy assurance under a range of possible outage scenarios?
  3. How can individual installations identify and assess response options available to fill potential gaps between energy requirements and capabilities?

New and evolving U.S. Air Force missions are making mission success more dependent than in the past on installations in the continental United States and their assured access to energy. Mission-essential facilities and installations increasingly require access to electric power to provide mission assurance. A number of factors can interrupt the supply of electric power, including natural disasters, accidents, and deliberate interference. Susceptibility to these factors varies among installations. Recognizing the need to help individual installations assess risks and plan responses, the Air Force asked RAND to develop a framework that installations can use to assess their level of energy assurance. Drawing from prior work and interviews with numerous subject-matter experts and Air Force personnel, the authors define terms and metrics and describe the current electric power architecture on installations. They then present an analytic framework that enables mission owners and base civil engineers to assess possible gaps between capabilities and requirements at a given base under a range of scenarios. Appendixes provide supporting material and additional framework guidance, including a list of response options that installation energy planners could consider. While the focus is on the installation, the concepts are intended to be scalable, meaning that they can be applied to a single facility, an Air Force base, or a mission operation spanning multiple bases.

Key Findings

Air Force Installations in the Continental United States Have Generally Similar Architectures

  • A local commercial electrical utility generally supplies power to the entire installation. While there may be more than one power distribution line into a base, which provides some redundancy, only personnel from the commercial utility can typically switch power from one line to the other.
  • While generators and other supplies may provide backup power for critical missions, access to fuel for generators is a key component of resilience capabilities. Scenarios that combine outages with constrained fuel delivery and/or reduced access to off-base personnel and parts can severely disrupt missions.
  • Resilience capacities are often determined within individual organizational silos, not developed in the context of whole-base resources. This limits opportunities to develop efficient or novel solutions and limits visibility into dependence on single points of failure.

It Is Important to Define and Communicate Requirements

  • Requirements (e.g., acceptable mission downtime) are often poorly defined or not communicated by mission owners in a timely fashion to the base civil engineer. Even when requirements are specified, their technical basis and connection to mission goals are not always clear.

Bases Are More Likely to Have Effective Responses in Place for Common Events than for Less-Familiar Ones

  • The effects of exposure to different power-disruption scenarios on base capabilities are currently not systematically assessed. As expected, base personnel are typically well aware of the consequences events on base capabilities that have previously taken place and are ready to take necessary actions to cope.


  • Mission owners should define energy requirements up front and clearly communicate them to the base civil engineer.
  • Energy requirements should be clearly tied to mission goals and needs.
  • Assessments of electric power requirements should account for interdependencies among electricity and other mission-essential infrastructures, such as water.
  • Operators and planners should invest in gaining a better understanding of the effects of exposure to challenging scenarios that have not previously been experienced.
  • To better understand priorities and dependencies, decisionmakers should look across missions at a given base and across bases that support a particular mission before investing in energy assurance upgrades.
  • In choosing solutions to implement at different bases and in addition to analyzing costs, risks, and other base-specific considerations, decisionmakers should consider effects of possible changes in policy, environmental, or economic conditions that could constrain or render obsolete certain solutions.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by Edwin Oshiba, Deputy Director of Civil Engineers, Headquarters Air Force A4, and conducted by the Resource Management Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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