Candles? Oil for lamps? Ammo for unwanted visitors in the dark? Iowa utilities joining drill simulating knockout blow to nation’s power grid.
As worries increase about the vulnerability of the nation’s power grid, Iowa’s largest electric utilities will participate next week in a closely watched exercise simulating a knockout blow to United States’ electrical supply by cyber-sabotage and physical attacks.
Officials with MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy confirmed to the Des Moines Register they will be involved in GridEx II on Nov. 12 and 13. The event is sponsored by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., a non-profit entity whose mission is to ensure the reliability of the bulk-power system in North America.
The scenario calls for a “prolonged blackout,” that will highlight timely vulnerabilities and issues facing the electrical utility industry.
The exercise will reportedly involve thousands of utility workers, business executives, anti-terrorism experts and government officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico. The drill has drawn lots of Internet chatter from survivalists and patriot activists who fear that in a real attack American cities and rural communities could be plunged into cold and darkness for months.
But it’s not only fringe groups who fear the worst from nations like North Korea and Iran.
A report issued in May by the staffs of U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and then-Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., warned the electric grid is the target of numerous and daily cyber attacks. Most utilities only comply with mandatory cybersecurity standards, and have not implemented voluntary recommendations by the North American Electric Reliability Corp, the document said.
In addition, most utilities have not taken concrete steps to reduce the vulnerability of the grid to geomagnetic storms and it is unclear whether the number of available spare transformers is adequate, the report said.
“The electric grid is vital to our economy and national security,” said Waxman, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The utility responses are sobering. They reveal serious gaps in the security of our electric grid and Congress needs to address these gaps in a bipartisan way.”
The upcoming exercise is expected to build upon lessons learned from a similar drill conducted two years ago.
“Overall, the exercise was widely regarded across industry and government as a critical imperative in preparing the bulk power system (BPS) for a disruptive cyber event,” according to an after-action report issued by the North American Electric Reliability Corp.
Julie White, communications director for Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy, which serves almost two-thirds of Iowa, described GridEx II as a “tabletop exercise” and referred other questions to officials with the North American Reliability Corp.
At Alliant Energy, spokesman Justin Foss said the drill will have no impact on Iowa’s electrical customers.
“This is an exercise to help us get better, and by us. I mean the industry,” Foss said. He added, “ This is a great opportunity for us to make sure that everybody has got their ducks in a row.”
Rob Hillesland, a spokesman for the Iowa Utilities Board, said the board and its staff will not participate directly in GridEx II. But the board is aware of the exercise and will be monitoring it, just as it has done with others drills, he added.