At this very moment, thousands of experts in both the utility industries, military and various government security agencies across the United States, Canada and Mexico are preparing for an emergency drill. The drill, which will simulate both physical and cyber attacks on the power grid has been set for November 13th-14th.
Our shared power resources are vulnerable to attack and in the opinion of many, destined to be hit. Former Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano described an attack as being, not a question of if, but a question of when.
A blow to the grid that resulted in a shutdown would result in a tremendous amount of chaos, civil unrest and ultimately deaths due to violence and a lack of food and water. Inevitably a declaration of martial law would follow such an instance. The human suffering and condition would have us clamoring in the streets for everyday necessities.
No power means there would be no supply of water, gasoline, diesel, frozen food, fresh food, medicines and communications, as all of these are dependent upon electricity for either their delivery or maintenance.
This will be no small operation. It is reported, in fact, to be the largest drill of its type by several times over anything ever done before. Over 150 companies and organizations have signed on as participants.
The scale of the projected emergency for which the preparedness drill allegedly is to take place is unprecedented as well.
Brian Harrell, of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, is the official in charge of the drill. The drill, code named GridEx ll, is said to be designed to determine how governments and their agencies react to the loss of normal supply chains critical to everyday needs.
Harrell, in comparing GridEx ll to previous exercises, said that the others were based on the expectation that electricity “would be up and running relatively quickly” after an attack. Now, he said, the goal is to “educate the federal government on what their expectations should or shouldn’t be.”
The industry held a smaller exercise two years ago in which 75 utilities, companies and agencies participated, but this one will be vastly expanded and will be carried out with a much greater sense of urgency.
The electrical grid is an essential part of American infrastructure, but is largely privately held and under private control. This is an opportunity to integrate and share information and expertise between government agencies and the suppliers. Most military facilities rely upon commercial power, so it is therefore a very important component of our national defense.
There are approximately 5,800 major power plants and 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines across the grid, which are monitored and controlled by a hodgepodge of devices installed over decades.
This diversity in control and mechanisms can be seen as a safeguard of sorts, in that there is no one solution to affect a total grid shutdown through a cyber attack, with the exception of an EMP.
An EMP, Electromagnetic Pulse would fry the unprotected components, most of which have tremendous lead times for manufacturing and those manufacturing facilities are also dependent upon electrical power.
An EMP attack could leave the entire continent at a standstill and in a state of chaos for months or years. Former CIA director James Woolsey is working to bring attention to the issue, which was also the subject of a report by the National Academy of Sciences last year. EMP’s occur naturally, has a result of solar flares, but can also be created through the low level detonation of a nuclear device. A single device detonated over the central part of the United States could have immediate crippling results.
In what may be described as a missed opportunity, the spokesperson for NERC, Mr. Bill Lawrence, indicates in a letter to Paul A. LaViolette, dated September 11th, 2013, that the emergency scenario in the drill does not include a response to an EMP.
Since an EMP attack is one of the greatest threats which exist to our infrastructure at this time, it is odd that it is not being considered.
On the plus side, Mr. Lawrence indicates there will be no actual power interruptions as a result of this drill.
A complete power blackout, for even a short period of time, would have a serious negative impact in just those areas in which we are seeking to safeguard, and on the lives of those affected.
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