The East Coast electric grid’s slow recovery from Hurricane Sandy highlights the shortcomings of the overburdened utility system and its susceptibility to damage from a different kind of surprise threat: terrorist attacks, especially hackers, notes one risk manager.
A report released by the National Research Council’s (NRC) Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, in conjunction with the National Academy of Sciences and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), shows that a terrorist attack on the U.S. electric delivery system could cause massive blackouts and cost the country billions, even more than what was triggered by the unprecedented storm.
The report proposes that companies develop and stockpile smaller, easier-to-use universal recovery transformers, such as the ones tested by energy companies ABB and CenterPoint Energy during the May 2012 RecX emergency drill program, in which three smaller, universal transformers were deployed from St. Louis to a Texas substation.
Besides the logistics of repairing a transformer, electrical systems may span hundreds of miles of unguarded facilities vulnerable to cyber-attacks through Internet or other telecommunications systems. Modern power systems rely on automated, centrally-controlled supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that send data to and from circuit breakers and other locally-operating equipment.