|Joint Hearing on Implications of Power Blackouts for
the Nation's Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection:
The Electrical Grid,
Critical Interdependencies, Vulnerabilities and Readiness
Paul H. Gilbert, PE, NAE
Panel on Energy Facilities, Cities, and Fixed Infrastructure
Committee on Science and Technology for Countering Terrorism
National Research Council
The National Academies
Director Emeritus of Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc.
Cybersecurity, Science and Research and Development Subcommittee
Infrastructure and Border Security Subcommittee
Select Committee on Homeland Security
U.S. House of Representatives
September 4, 2003
Chairman Thornberry, Chairman Camp, and members of the Subcommittees.
My name is Paul Gilbert. I
am an officer
and director emeritus of Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc. I am also a
member of the National Academy of Engineering and was Chair of
the National Research Council Panel responsible for the Chapter
on Energy Systems for the NRC Branscomb-Klausner Report: "Making
the Nation Safer: the Role of Science and Technology in Countering
Terrorism". As you know, the NRC is the operating arm of the
National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering and
the Institute of Medicine, chartered in 1863, to advise the government
on matters of science and technology. The subject report was the
product of the mobilized academies following the 9/11 attacks.
Some 130 volunteers from every branch of science, engineering and
medicine assembled to undertake this work on an urgent basis with
the report production financed entirely with private funds of the
Academies. The report was first presented in June of 2002. It is
a pleasure to come before you today to assist in focusing attention
on the vulnerabilities of our Electric Power Systems, including
their cyber sub systems, and the enormous dependence of other critical
infrastructure on the electric supply.
Our basic infrastructure systems are a highly integrated, mutually
dependent generally highly utilized set of infrastructure components
that provide our communities and way of life with vitally needed
services and support. These include the electric power and our
food supply, water supply, waste disposal, natural gas, communications,
transportation, petroleum products, shelter, employment, medical
support and emergency services, and all our other basic needs.
While all these elements are essential to our well being, only
one has the unique impact if lost of causing all the others to
either be seriously degraded or completely lost. And that, of
course, is electric power. Our technically advanced society is
literally hard wired to a firm reliable electric supply.
That electric supply system has, over the past decade taken on
significantly greater loads (power demands) and has also undergone
a makeover from being a highly regulated, vertically integrated
utility industry to one that is partially deregulated, far less
unified and not so robust and resilient as it was. The generation
side is essentially deregulated and operating under an open market
set of conditions where competitive price, low operating costs
and return on investment are rewarded with profits and bonuses.
At the same time the transmission sector remains fully regulated
and limited from taking steps to meet growing demand with new
capacity by uncertainty in knowing how such investments will
be paid for under regulatory bodies that are tasked to see that
power is delivered to rate payers at minimum cost. Where possible,
operating costs have been reduced by installing automated cyber
controllers, SCADA units and LANs, to perform the functions that
people had previously performed. In general, control is now more
centralized, spare parts inventories are reduced, and systems
are highly integrated across entire regions.
This dramatic change has played out with the result that the in-place
electrical systems assets today are typically being operated
very efficiently at close to the limit of available capacity.
In this mode, another characteristic of such systems appears.
When operated near their capacity, these systems have little
margin within which to handle power or load fluctuations. Thus
they are quite vulnerable to being brought down by operating
fluctuations that exceed their remaining margins. Shutting down
becomes the only way a system element has of protecting itself
from severe damage when load exceeds capacity. But the loss of
a piece of the grid, a section of transmission line, does not
end the problem. The line down takes with it the power it was
transmitting. A connected power plant, having no connected load
must also shut down. In these highly integrated grids, more lines
have imbalance problems and more plants sense capacity problems
and so also shut down. This cascading spreads very rapidly in
many directions and in seconds, an entire sector of the North
American grid can be down. We had a living example of this event,
this past month, caused by an accident. We were fortunate to
see the power return in so short a time.
The exact same consequences could too easily be reproduced by an
attack from a small trained terrorist team as was hypothecated
in the Making the Nation Safer report. Several critical nodes
in the grid, taken out in the most damaging manner is the terrorist
attack. What is caused is the terror flowing to all of us from
the attack. Recovery in the case cited might take weeks or months,
not hours or days, and the damage done to our people and our
economy would be enormous.
While the report does not speculate on the extended consequences
of such an event, I have been asked to do so here and so offer
this as personal opinion. Because our critical infrastructure
is so completely integrated, with the power out for even a day
or two, both food and water supply soon fail. Transportation
systems would be at a standstill. Wastewater could not be pumped
away and so would become a health problem. In time natural gas
pressure would decline and some would loose gas altogether. Nights
would be very dark and communications would be spotty or non-existent.
Storage batteries would have been long gone from the stores if
any stores were open. Work, jobs, employment, business and production
would be stopped. Our economy would take a major hit. All in
all our cities would not be very nice places to be. Some local
power grids would get back up and so there would be islands of
light in the darkness. Haves and have-nots would get involved.
It would not be a very safe place to be either. Marshal law would
likely follow along with emergency food and water supply relief.
We would rally and find ways to get by while the system is being
repaired. In time, the power will start to come back. Tentatively
at first, with rolling blackouts and then with all it glory.
Several weeks to months have passed, and the clean up would begin.
This is one man's opinion.
We have the means to limit the kind of disaster that has been speculated
upon above. The recommendations provided in Chapter 6 of the
report address actions that are designed to minimize the immediate
vulnerabilities of the electric power systems and then to seek
longer-term solutions. Those recommendations are as to the point
today as they were when published 15 months ago.
recommendations begin with immediate attention is needed to mobilize
the leadership and then the resources
and organizations to first determine the proper roles for each
interested party and then to come together, meet and develop needed
that deter open discussions among the private and governmental
parties need to be resolved immediately.
include antitrust, liability and FOIA.
by government of the institutional and market settings (regulated
and deregulated and open free
market) for the
industry needs attention to focus the inherent incentives on what
the nation needs to live safely.
of tools now employed by the military to analyze vulnerabilities
should occur, perhaps
to DHS for use with the grids.
studies are indicated to identify the most critical equipment
in the respective power systems and
the protective measures to be taken with each.
models of these highly complex grids are indicated that are capable
of identifying points of
and reserves on operating capacities.
action is indicated to allow recovery crews to immediately enter
what would then be a crime
an attack to commence the work of repair, recovery, and restoration
regulatory bodies must be encouraged to find the means for transmission
organizations to define costs
terrorism improvements and for recovering those costs from their
operations or from other sources.
use of SCADA systems in an unprotected configuration should be
addressed and expert advice obtained
regarding the options
available to correct the vulnerabilities now present.
is indicated that addresses particular system equipment needs.
First among the list is the potential
modular universal EHV transformers to support rapid grid recovery.
is indicated into the equipment and technology required for,
and the steps involved to, transition
to an intelligent,
adaptive power grid.
There is much greater detail and substance provided in Chapter
6 of the referenced report. The unfortunate black out this past
month has drawn important attention to this area of critical
infrastructure need. We at the Academies are delighted that we
can continue to contribute to the effective resolution of these
Thank you for inviting me today and for your attention in holding
these hearings. I will be happy to respond to your questions.