Tags: Forbes | Power Grid | Electric | Security

Forbes: No Consensus Yet on How to Safeguard America's Power Grid

By    |   Tuesday, 18 March 2014 01:25 PM

America's vulnerable power-transmission grid is vital to national security — especially since, thanks to the Internet, so much of the economy is dependent on it — but Forbes reported there is no unified approach yet on how to protect it.

The issue came into focus after unknown masked gunmen attacked a power substation near San Jose, Calif., the Silicon Valley area that is ground zero for much of the nation’s digital assets, last year in an incident that only recently came to light.

At least 17 transformers at the Pacific Gas & Electric facility were damaged.

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“Around 2 a.m., they cut off access to 911 by severing some fiber optic cables, all before they entered the utility’s property through a manhole. It took about a month to repair the damages, the utility said, noting that this could be a practice run for something bigger,” said Forbes contributor Ken Silverstein, a global energy writer, in his column.

Members of the U.S. Senate say mandatory security steps should be taken, but the utility industry claims a voluntary approach is bound to have a better outcome.

As a result, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has ordered the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), a non-profit group of the power-utility industry, to come up with plans.

In a statement earlier this month, FERC Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur said, “Because the grid is so critical to all aspects of our society and economy, protecting its reliability and resilience is a core responsibility of everyone who works in the electric industry. (The) order enhances the grid’s resilience by requiring physical security for the facilities most critical to the reliable operation of the Bulk-Power System.”

The federal agency said NERC utilities must come up with a risk assessment to identify critical facilities, evaluate potential threat, and develop and implement their security plans within 90 days, which would be early June.

The American public may not be privy to the security steps that are being taken on their behalf.

A FERC agency statement said: “Recognizing that critical facilities identified pursuant to the required reliability standards could contain sensitive or confidential information that, if publicized, could jeopardize the operation of the grid, FERC directed NERC to include a procedure that ensures confidential treatment of sensitive or confidential information but still allows for the appropriate oversight to ensure compliance.”

Silverstein noted the National Academy of Sciences warned as early as 2012 that a concerted attack on the nation’s power grid could have devastating impact.

In a report then, the academy’s National Research Council warned, “The U.S. electric power delivery system is vulnerable to terrorist attacks that could cause much more damage to the system than natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, blacking out large regions of the country for weeks or months and costing many billions of dollars.”

In his Forbes column, Silverstein concluded: “Transmission networks are complex mechanisms not easily taken down. Doing so would require more than a two people with rifles, although such misfits can inflict damages and impose costs. Giving the public insight into the types of hazards that properties face is beneficial and it may even result in better video surveillance or more secure fencing around isolated assets.”

The Wall Street Journal reported this month that FERC’s own recent assessment concluded the U.S. could suffer a “coast-to-coast blackout” if saboteurs knocked out only a critical few of the country's 55,000 electric-transmission substations.

The FERC study's results have been known for months by people at federal agencies, Congress and the White House, according to the Journal.

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America's vulnerable power transmission grid is vital to national security - especially since, thanks to the Internet, so much of the economy is now dependent on it - but Forbes reported there is no unified approach yet on how to protect it.
Forbes,Power Grid,Electric,Security
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2014-25-18
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 01:25 PM
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