It’s rarely just “one thing” that contributes to a problem. In Ted Koppel’s book, Lights Out he hits on multiple reasons for our power grid to be vulnerable for failures. The following are just a few.
Regulation Gridlock Energy is produced by one company, transported by another and and then handed off to local power companies. Prior to 2003, the electrical power industry standards were voluntary. When it was deemed regulations was needed, the Critical Infrastructure Act never made it out of committee. For what ever reason, the 2 Billion needed to protect the electrical grid was too much money. Energy transported across the country is federally regulated. Once it gets to the intended local company, it falls under the state’s regulation. That’s 50 states with 50 different regulations. It is pointed out multiple times, that the smaller electrical companies are clearly the weakest link due to their smaller profit margins This makes it more difficult, if not impossible for them to provide security and maintenance to their equipment.
Aging Equipment Most of the the tens of thousands of large power transformers (LPT) across our country were built between 1954 and 1978. Each one is custom built (no interchangeable parts) and cost between 3 to 10 million dollars. Approximately 85% are built over seas with up to a 2 year lead time. These LPT’s are so ginormous and heavy, weighing between 400,000 and 600,000 lbs., they require a special railroad freight car called a schnabel, of which only 30 exist in all of North America.
Many of our current LPTs were delivered on rail lines that no longer exist. When transported over the road, they require a modular device 70 ft long with 12 axels and 190 wheels. I can only imagine the logistics of that!
Outdated operation systems could also be a problem. Thousands of power companies use a system that was designed before cyber attacks were even a consideration. Many power stations in other countries use the same operation systems.
Denial and ambivalence = No Plan Homeland Security’s former secretary dismissed an EMP, relegating it to the bottom of the priority list. The current Secretary of Homeland Security (at the time of Koppel’s interview) stated he knew who to call if there was a cyber attack but had no knowledge of any plan. Four Secretaries of Homeland Security had all conceded of the likelihood of a catastrophic cyber attack affecting our power grid but none had developed a plan to deal with the aftermath. The current head of Homeland Security is of the belief that FEMA has the capability of bringing in transformer backups if there was a problem. The administrator of FEMA said no, there is no ability of them to turn the power on after a LPT failure. While FEMA has gotten better at natural disasters, It is likely they will be overwhelmed as a cyber attack will encompass a much larger geographical area and many millions more people than in a natural disaster. An administrator for a cyber attack consulting firm during the Obama administration stated there is no answer (plan?) because no government agency has guidelines for private citizens because there is nothing they can do to prepare. Even the Senior Officer at Ted Koppel’s local fire station had no idea what to do if there was an attack on our power grid. And around and around we go.
What does this mean for the rest of us? Stay tuned for my final post on Ted Koppel’s book, Lights Out.