Electric Grid Resilience in the Time of the Coronavirus

By Rick Mroz, former president, NJ Board of Public Utilities

Over the last few weeks, as our thoughts and actions have turned toward fighting the coronavirus and its many challenges, I have thought numerous times about how fortunate we are that our critical infrastructure and essential services, such of electricity, gas, water and wastewater are intact and continue to provide comfort as many of us shelter in place.


I am also heartened that government and private sector groups, such as the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency  and Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council,  are paying close attention to safeguarding our critical infrastructure, especially the electric grid.

As we dramatically shift our way of work and life away from “the office” and other public spaces, and become even more dependent on the technology of communications — everything from Netflix to personal computers, video conferencing platforms and mobile phones — I am also reminded that none of these necessities or conveniences exist or work without electricity.

Our critical infrastructure — water, power, transportation, telecommunications, information technology, healthcare, financial services and logistics — is the essential support network for our country, our economy and our way of life.  And within that infrastructure, electricity and the electric grid are the nexus to all other critical sectors – in today’s highly-interconnected, Internet of Things world, electricity is the lifeblood.

Against this reality, we have to recognize that every device connected to the Internet creates a potential pathway for foreign governments and other malevolent actors to compromise essential networks – particularly the electric power grid, the backbone of our critical infrastructure. The hard truth is that the United States remains exposed to the potential for large-scale or prolonged disruption of the power grid, which could cripple the economy.

At Protect Our Power, we have for several years been focusing on the need for our nation to be vigilant about strengthening grid security, and not allowing distractions or disasters, such as the coronavirus fight, to provide cyber criminals an opportunity to wreak even further havoc on our economy by attacking our power plants or the electric grid.

Throughout this time, we have encouraged establishing a culture of enhanced and sustained resilience, so that no matter the cause of a potential disruption of the grid — an intentional physical act, a weather event, or a virus — we are prepared to manage those threats and respond and recover quickly.

The coronavirus situation again illustrates the need for advance preparation.  We know that a natural disaster is possible at any time, and we know that Russian hackers have already penetrated U.S. power plant control rooms.  We believe that we must manage all threats to the integrity of the grid aggressively through existing and emerging technologies and security practices, backed by a deep ability to rebound quickly and continue operations following a cyber-attack. Developing this culture of resiliency will require the government and the private sector to jointly defend our critical infrastructure, and the time to jumpstart that process is now.

Rick Mroz

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