Security, industry and government officials are increasingly warning that the U.S. electrical power grid faces potential widespread failure from broad-based, systemic threats such as a cyberattack or massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) disturbance. Indeed, nations as varied as North Korea, Iran, China and Russia have hacked into the U.S power grid. As for EMPs, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official recently testified before Congress, “EMP can cause widespread disruption and serious damage to electronic devices and networks, including those upon which many critical infrastructures rely.” These so-called “grid-down” risks have yet to be met with the urgency they demand, but time is not on our side.
On the one hand, following growing awareness of the system’s vulnerability to such threats, Duke Energy recently added EMP threats to its emergency plans. Even Congress has gotten engaged by passing EMP-related provisions in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which, among other actions, directs DHS to include various grid-down scenarios into its planning and exercises.
Yet there has been little progress beyond studies and assessments, many of which conclude that we need more studies and assessments. This is happening even as the potential of conflict this year with Iran and North Korea seems worrisomely high.