As Worries Over the Power Grid Rise, a Drill Will Simulate a Knockout Blow
New York City during a blackout in 2003. More than 150 companies and groups will take part in a drill that will simulate attacks on the power grid.
Published: August 16, 2013
WASHINGTON — The electric grid, as government and private experts describe it, is the glass jaw of American industry. If an adversary lands a knockout blow, they fear, it could black out vast areas of the continent for weeks; interrupt supplies of water, gasoline, diesel fuel and fresh food; shut down communications; and create disruptions of a scale that was only hinted at by Hurricane Sandy and the attacks of Sept. 11.
This is why thousands of utility workers, business executives, National Guard officers, F.B.I. antiterrorism experts and officials from government agencies in the United States, Canada and Mexico are preparing for an emergency drill in November that will simulate physical attacks and cyberattacks that could take down large sections of the power grid.
They will practice for a crisis unlike anything the real grid has ever seen, and more than 150 companies and organizations have signed up to participate.
“This is different from a hurricane that hits X, Y and Z counties in the Southeast and they have a loss of power for three or four days,” said the official in charge of the drill, Brian M. Harrell of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, known as NERC. “We really want to go beyond that.”
One goal of the drill, called GridEx II, is to explore how governments would react as the loss of the grid crippled the supply chain for everyday necessities.
“If we fail at electricity, we’re going to fail miserably,” Curt Hébert, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at a recent conference held by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Mr. Harrell said that previous exercises were based on the expectation that electricity “would be up and running relatively quick” 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 in a more anxious mood.
Most of the participants will join the exercise from their workplaces, with NERC, in Washington, announcing successive failures. One example, organizers say, is a substation break-in that officials initially think is an attempt to steal copper. But instead, the intruder uses a USB drive to upload a virus into a computer network.
The drill is part of a give-and-take in the past few years between the government and utilities that has exposed the difficulties of securing the electric system.
The grid is essential for almost everything, but it is mostly controlled by investor-owned companies or municipal or regional agencies. Ninety-nine percent of military facilities rely on commercial power, according to the White House.
The utilities play down their abilities, in comparison with the government’s. “They have the intelligence operation, the standing army, the three-letter agencies,” said Scott Aaronson, senior director of national security policy at the Edison Electric Institute, the trade association of investor-owned utilities. “We have the grid operations expertise.”
That expertise involves running 5,800 major power plants and 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, monitored and controlled by a staggering mix of devices installed over decades. Some utilities use their own antique computer protocols and are probably safe from hacking — what the industry calls “security through obscurity.”
But others rely on Windows-based control systems that are common to many industries. Some of them run on in-house networks, but computer security experts say they are not confident that all the connections to the public Internet have been discovered and secured. Many may be vulnerable to software — known as malware — that can disable the systems or destroy their ability to communicate, leaving their human operators blind about the positions of switches, the flows of current and other critical parameters. Experts say a sophisticated hacker could also damage hard-to-replace equipment.
In an effort to draw utilities and the government closer, the industry recently established the Electricity Sub-Sector Coordinating Council, made up of high-level executives, to meet with federal officials. The first session is next month.
Preparation for the November drill comes as Congress is debating laws that could impose new standards to protect the grid from cyberattacks, but many in the industry, some of whom would like such rules, doubt that they can pass.
The drill is also being planned as conferences, studies and even works of fiction are raising near-apocalyptic visions of catastrophes involving the grid
A National Academy of Sciences report last year said that terrorists could cause broad hardship for months with physical attacks on hard-to-replace components. An emerging effort led in part by R. James Woolsey, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is gearing up to pressure state legislatures to force utilities to protect equipment against an electromagnetic pulse, which could come from solar activity or be caused by small nuclear weapons exploded at low altitude, frying crucial components
An attack using an electromagnetic pulse is laid out in extensive detail in the novel “One Second After,” published in 2009 and endorsed by Newt Gingrich. In another novel,“Gridlock,” published this summer and co-written by Byron L. Dorgan, the former senator from North Dakota, a rogue Russian agent working for Venezuela and Iran helps hackers threaten the grid. In the preface, Mr. Dorgan says such an attack could cause 10,000 times as much devastation as the terrorists’ strikes on Sept. 11, 2001.
Despite the growing anxiety, the government and the private sector have had trouble coordinating their grid protection efforts. The utility industry argues that the government has extensive information on threats but keeps it classified. Government officials concede the problem, and they have suggested that some utility executives get security clearances. But with hundreds of utilities and thousands of executives, it cannot issue such clearances fast enough. And the industry would like to be instantly warned when the government identifies Internet servers that are known to be sources of malware.
Another problem is that the electric system is so tightly integrated that a collapse in one spot, whether by error or intent, can set off a cascade, as happened in August 2003, when a power failure took a few moments to spread from Detroit to New York.
Sometimes utility engineers and law enforcement officials also seem to speak different languages. In his book “Protecting Industrial Control Systems From Electronic Threats,” Joseph Weiss, an engineer and cybersecurity expert, recounted a meeting between electrical engineers and the F.B.I. in 2008. When an F.B.I. official spoke at length about I.E.D.’s, he was referring to improvised explosive devices, but to the engineers the abbreviation meant intelligent electronic devices.
And experts fear government-sponsored hacking. Michael V. Hayden, another former C.I.A. director, speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center conference, said that the Stuxnet virus, which disabled some of Iran’s centrifuges for enriching uranium, might invite retaliation.
“In a time of peace, someone just used a cyberweapon to destroy another nation’s critical infrastructure,” he said. “Ouch.”
IRS Advises of Power Outage Ahead of Grid Ex Electricity Drill: “This service will be unavailable”
The Daily Sheeple
November 9th, 2013
(The Daily Sheeple) Next week on November 13th and 14th the Department of Homeland Security will be engaging in a widespread power outage drill involving scores of international government agencies and business in an effort to test the viability of a national response plan in the event of a cyber attack, electro-magnetic pulse attack or solar flare.
The Grid Ex II drill has left many concerned that it may coincide with an actual “false flag” attack, much like similar drills that were taking place on September 11th, as well as in Boston during the recent bombing.
Speculation abounds about the coming power grid drills, and a recent alert issued by the IRS.gov web site isn’t helping quell fears.
The following message has appeared on at least 50 pages of the IRS.gov web site within the last 48 hours, though the alert is not being displayed on most areas of the site:
Planned Outage: November 9 — November 12, 2013This service will be unavailable beginning approximately 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, November 9, 2013 until approximately 7:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, due to a power outage. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Message forums on the internet suggest that many believe this may have something to do with the Grid Ex II drills, though no information from the IRS has been forthcoming.
PREPARE FOR THE GRIDEX II NOVEMBER POWER GRID “DRILL”
This drill is scheduled to begin November 13, 2013. What is not being discussed is how much of the nation will lose power or, since it is a three-nation drill (United States and parts of Canada and Mexico), the entire U.S. will go “offline” so to speak. What we are told is that all food and water transport will stop, business and banking will stop, transportation and shopping will stop, communications will stop, and there will be no heat in homes, schools or places of business. We are also told this will only be a “simulation”. As such, it is best to be prepared one way or another, just in case.
Therefore, everyone will have to decide whether to go to work, whether to send their kids to school or have them possibly locked down, and they will have to decide whether they will have non-perishable foods and water on hand, alternative lighting and heating, medical supplies, etc., for what will likely be ordered sheltering in place.
Therefore, a few suggestions come to mind:
Have at least two weeks food and water stored for all family members and pets, preferably one month’s storage.
Have warm clothing, warm blankets and sleeping bags, gloves and hats.
Have extra medical supplies and prescription drugs if you know you will run out during mid-November. Have a quality First Aid kit, stocked.
Have extra firewood and a place to possibly cook outdoors. You might want to include a good tent and/or large tarps, ropes, bungee cords, and a good ax and wood saw.
Do NOT throw away yard sticks, burnable trash, cardboard, etc. Store them in boxes in the garage or a utility shed. If you do not have either, ask a neighbor if you can temporarily store them in their garage or shed. Buy wood matches and keep them in zip lock bags or plastic containers with lids.
You will have to decide whether you are going to send your children school. If so, pack food, water, and dress them very warmly and prepare them in advance that you may have no ability to contact them and that they may have to stay at school for several days.
Fill you cars with gasoline prior to November 10th, and try to store extra gasoline in a safe place.
If you can afford to do so, buy a Big Buddy propane heater, three or four 20 pound propane tanks (filled), and an adapter hose for the 20 pound tanks.
Have paper plates, paper and foam cups, plastic utensils, a good can opener or two, a good all-purpose tool, and keep all store bags.
Have plenty of toilet paper, sanitary supplies for girls and women, hand soaps, paper and hand towels, and have plenty of small plastic or grocery store bags.
Have several quality flashlights, A LOT of batteries. Several old-fashioned oil lamps with wicks and clear glass chimneys and a gallon or two of lamp oil will provide good light and quite a bit of additional heat.
If you have babies have stored formula, cleaned bottles, diapers, wipes, ointments, and plenty of warm baby blankets, hats, mits, booties, temperature-lowering medicines and electrolyte juices.
If you have senior parents or grandparents, get them prepared with all necessities.
Know how to shut off your natural gas.
Get laundry done prior to the drill.
Be aware that we have no real idea if this drill will include armies in our streets, forced relocations; business and/or school lock downs, or if this will be a drill that becomes a live “event” as occurred in Boston. Mostly, be prepared for many people to be unprepared and panicked should this drill play out in actuality. Be prepared to protect your home, families and supplies, and always keep working toward a six month supply of stored goods including garden seeds. In today’s world and beneath today’s national and international political threats and policing systems, you just never know. Stock up.