After Paris, new worries over electrical grid attack
The potential for a devastating attack on the U.S. electricity grid remains high on the minds of utility and government leaders, especially in light of the deadly terrorist actions in Paris on Nov. 13.
Just days after the carnage in the French capital, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) conducted a massive exercise simulating coordinated assaults on the grid in the U.S., Canada and Mexcio, one that involved cyber and physical attacks that left millions of people without electricity for an extended period of time.
The scheduling of the Nov. 18-19 grid-security exercise was coincidental; it had been in the works for months.
But Gerry Cauley, the president and chief executive of NERC, said the attacks on restaurants and a concert hall in Paris “heightened awareness” of the risks facing the grid and other infrastructure, including the potential for “explosive devices and shootings” bringing down power plants, substations and transmission lines.
“Those are part of our exercise in a general sense, and we’re very much aware of and sensitive to that,” Cauley said during a briefing for reporters in the midst of the drill.
The threat is hardly new. Earlier this year, a USA TODAY investigation of cyber and physical attacks on the U.S. grid over several years found that incidents occur about once every four days.
“There are many serious hazards and threats facing the electric sector, and these threats continue to evolve,” Liz Sherwood-Randall, the U.S. deputy secretary of energy, told reporters.
“In general, we are never satisfied with our current state,” added Tom Fanning, the chairman, president and chief executive of Southern Company. “We know that as the threat changes, we’ve got to get better, even if we believe we’re pretty good right now.”
The latest test by NERC, the third of its kind since 2011, included cyberattacks on utility systems that control the generation and transmission of electricity, as well as physical attacks that left vital equipment inoperable, all of which required “a protracted period of time to recover,” said Cauley, whose nonprofit agency develops and enforces reliability standards for the grid in the U.S., Canada and part of Mexico.
More than 350 utilities, government agencies and other organizations as well as 10,000 or so people participated in the so-called GridEx III.