Stockton: U.S. must find electric grid's single points of failure

Tools

The government needs to find the electric grid's single points of failure that can lead to cascading crises, said Paul Stockton, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, on Dec. 18.

Even though the Defense Department already knew that energy infrastructure was interconnected, Hurricane Sandy "was a little bit of a wakeup call," Stockton said, as it became evident how dependent first responders, hospitals, and fuel supplies are on electricity.

If the government knows where the crucial points in the system are, it can mitigate risk and build redundancy in advance, and also know where to focus its initial response efforts after a disaster, he said at the Homeland Security Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Especially with limited budgets, he added, it's key to find those few points that the electric system hinges on most.

Utilities already prepare lists of which parts of their systems are the top priorities to restore after outages, but Stockton said that ideally, national security concerns would also factor into those choices.

He also pointed out that the military depends on energy infrastructure that the private sector owns and DoD can't regulate, and that makes it vulnerable to unconventional warfare. Increasingly, command and control has been based inside the United States, so an attack that devastates the U.S. supply of electricity would have consequences for warfighting abroad.

"We are utterly dependent for mission assurance on critical infrastructure that we are never going to own," he said.

The private sector can't be counted on to build resilience for national security on its own if it has no financial incentives. Stockton mentioned that DoD is experimenting on a small scale with power plants that industry builds on military facilities. Utilities can use the plants to provide power to the local community at peak load times, and if the power grid suffers an attack, DoD would be able to use these power plants as backups.

For more:
- go to the event webpage (archived video available)

Related Articles:
DHS should stockpile generator equipment, National Research Council says
DoD aims for self-reliance with SPIDERS microgrid
MIT: Cyber attack on electric grid 'almost certain'