US unprepared for ‘catastrophic’ power outage, presidential advisory report finds
Securing the nation’s power system will require billions in investment, begging the eternal question: Who pays?
The U.S. utility sector has been focused on cybersecurity for several years now, as the industry grasped the full extent of the threat it faces — and how unprepared most companies really were.
The effort to get up to speed has progressed on several fronts: This year, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, and is now funding tens of millions of dollars in projects and research. GridEx, a biennial security event hosted by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, draws thousands of participants and allows them to run through their cyberattack response protocols. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been strengthening its Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Reliability Standards to respond to more sophisticated threats.
In the face of these enhancements, a recent survey found almost half of power and utility CEOs think a cyber attack on their company is inevitable.
While utilities appear to be making peace with their responsibilities and the stakes, most scenario planning has been focused on short-term outages. For better or worse, say industry officials, utilities have gotten pretty good at responding to those.
But a new draft report from the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) is tackling a different kind of blackout.
In “Surviving a Catastrophic Power Outage,” the council examines the United States’ ability to respond to and recover from an outage “of a magnitude beyond modern experience, exceeding prior events in severity, scale, duration, and consequence.”
NIAC was tasked with considering an unprecedented scenario: an outage that extended beyond days and weeks, out to months or even years, while affecting large portions of the country.
“We know how to deal with, what we’ll call ‘extended outages.’ We have lot of experience responding to those, similar to what happened in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria,” said Scott Aaronson, vice president of security and preparedness for the Edison Electric Institute, and a member of the report’s advisory group.