The electric power transmission and distribution system (“the grid”1 ) is an extraordinarily complex network of wires, transformers, and associated equipment and control software designed to transmit electricity from where it is generated, usually in centralized power plants, to commercial, residential, and industrial users. Because the U.S. infrastructure has become increasingly dependent on electricity, vulnerabilities in the grid have the potential to cascade well beyond whether the lights turn on, impacting among other basic services such as the fueling infrastructure, the economic system, and emergency services.
In 2007, the National Research Council (NRC) prepared a report responding to a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to examine the vulnerability of the grid to terrorist attack. However, the report was classified out of concern that it might help terrorists target the electric grid. In 2012, the NRC was able to work with the DHS to release an unclassified report, Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System,2 in November 2012, just 2 weeks after Hurricane Sandy impacted the northeastern United States with flooding and power outages.
Given the amount of time that had passed since completion of the report in 2007 and its eventual release in 2012, the NRC and the committee wanted to ascertain whether much had changed during this 5-year period and to identify possible efforts going forward. Because of the shifting context for the vulnerability of the electric power system, the focus of the workshop was also broadened to include impacts from natural disasters as well as intelligent agents. Thus, the NRC and the committee responsible for writing the 2007 report held a workshop on the resilience of the electric power delivery system in response to terrorism and natural disasters. The purpose was not to translate the entire report into the present, but to
1 It should be noted that although the grid tends to be referred to as a single unit, in fact it is comprised of three separate grids with few connections between them: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas Interconnection.
2 National Research Council, 2012, Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
focus on key issues relevant to making the grid sufficiently robust that it could handle inevitable failures without disastrous impact.
The workshop took place at the National Academy of Sciences on February 27-28, 2013, as part of the dissemination of the committee’s work. Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences, noted at the start of the workshop that new needs and desires are developing in electrical power distribution, and that it is the responsibility of the NRC to ensure that the work of the committee is as timely and relevant as possible, despite the delayed public release of its report. Building on the committee’s report, the workshop focused on physical vulnerabilities and the cybersecurity of the grid as well as ways in which communities respond to widespread outages and how to minimize these impacts. Finally, the workshop also touched on the grid of tomorrow and how resilience can be encouraged and built into the grid in the future.
Granger Morgan, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), chair of the committee that authored Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System,3 noted at the outset of the workshop that although that report may have focused on “attacks,” 80 to 90 percent of the discussion in the report is relevant to vulnerabilities beyond terrorism. Given the increasing probability that severe weather events are occurring owing to climate change, there was a great amount of discussion on how to begin to assess the vulnerabilities to these nonterrorist events moving forward.
David Kaufman, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), noted that planning tends to assume current capacity and further assumes that events in the future will be similar to ones in the past. While this is a useful starting point, it is crucial to understand outcomes that can break the system. As 100-year floods become 50- or even 20-year floods, how should adjustments be made? According to Mr. Kaufman, even if one is able to acknowledge the risk, it is difficult to determine how to address it and who will be responsible for the costs.
Gerald Galloway, University of Maryland, noted that insurance agencies are beginning to recognize that catastrophic occurrences are becoming increasingly frequent as global climate change continues to alter weather patterns, and they are starting to factor this into their risk assessment models. While Hurricane Sandy may have been the most recent natural disaster to broadly impact national infrastructure, he also pointed to the tsunami in Japan that led the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in 2012 and the impact of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005 as catastrophic events that have led to major upheaval. In 2011 alone, Dr. Galloway noted, $55 billion in economic damage was due to weather events in the United States, with 14 events causing more than $1 billion in damage each. He said that no person or place is immune to these events.
3 National Research Council, 2012, Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System.
FIGURE 1-1 Preliminary significant U.S. weather and climate events for 2012. SOURCE: NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: National Overview for Annual 2012, available at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/2012/13.
Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability in the Department of Energy (DOE), also urged a broader view of climate impacts, noting the wide array of weather-related incidents just last year across the entire United States, including widespread drought in Texas and the Southwest, record low temperatures in the Northwest, and wildfires across the West (see Figure 1-1). Dr. Hoffman also pointed out that thousands of weather records had been broken across the United States in the past year, and these trends are likely to continue. Electricity generation sources have already been impacted by drought, with low water levels forcing some power plants to reduce capacity because of limited cooling power. Further impacts to the electricity system are anticipated. The question, according to Dr. Galloway, is whether events like Sandy can create a teachable moment for those parts of the country that have not yet had extensive experience with extreme weather events.
Given this shifting landscape, identifying vulnerabilities in the electric power system to both natural disasters and terrorist attacks remains a serious challenge. Chapters 2 and 3 are focused on physical vulnerabilities in the system and issues of cybersecurity, respectively, in order to better understand the threats to resilience that the electric power system faces. Chapter 4 then addresses how communities respond to outages, while Chapter 5 details future developments of the grid that impact the resilience of the system as a whole. Chapter 6 provides an overall summary of the key points of the workshop.