Experts: U.S. more prepared for cyber attack on paper than in reality

July 26, 2016

A discussion panel of cyber security and electrical industry stakeholders on Sunday examined what can be done to protect public utilities in the U.S. and other countries from cyber attacks, as well as what steps can be taken to mitigate the effects on the grid during a high-risk event.

The panel was part of the annual summer meeting of the National Association of Utility Commissioners (NARUC).

“Simply put, it really is critical to our collective national interests that hometown security preparedness equals national preparedness and security,” Matt Duncan, program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), said. “One thing that has shown promise in helping these issues are our DoE regional coordinators in each of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions that work with first responders during the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.”

Duncan pointed to the Energy Emergency Assurance Coordinators Agreement signed by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz in February, which would use one or more state-designated individuals as points of contact to share information with the DoE and states in the event of an energy supply disruption, as an important step. The program would serve to improve information sharing and communication during lower response times.

Duncan added that preparedness exercises held by federal agencies and the private sector are critical to ensuring the safety of both the electrical grid and first responders. The exercises also include annual studies on the risks and hazards that might affect the energy sector.

Despite such preparedness efforts, however, U.S. cyber security is not nearly as prepared as it appears, Arthur House, commissioner for the state of Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, warned.

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