‘Framing the Resilience Landscape’ panel calls for nationwide preparedness

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The energy industry is most targeted by cyberattackers, and building a nationwide, interconnected culture of preparedness is key to preserving grid resilience, according to speakers on Tuesday’s General Session panel, “Framing the Resilience Landscape” at the PJM annual meeting of members.

“There’s a huge bull’s-eye on this industry’s back, and we have to pay attention to that,” said Pat Hoffman, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, U.S. Department of Energy.

PJM, the industry, the FERC and government officials are addressing resilience within the framework of planning for and being able to operate through and recover from high-impact, low-frequency events.

Hoffman and Rob Glenn, director – Private Sector Integration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, presented dovetailing views on the various threats faced by the nation’s infrastructure, and the steps needed to be able to withstand any type of disruptive event.

Last year, the United States saw wildfires, four major hurricanes and “unique cyber challenges,” Glenn said.

“As you look at the complexity nationally, the threat landscape, natural and manmade, we really can’t have the same model within FEMA,” he said. “Now we are also building a culture of preparedness, which will build resiliency.”

The biggest threats to the electric industry are hurricanes and cyberattacks, Hoffman said, noting an increase in spear-phishing campaigns, denial-of-service attacks and ransomware incidents.

Meanwhile, she said, three separate weather forecasts for the season predict 14 to 18 named storms and anywhere from six to 11 hurricanes on the Eastern seaboard.

Glenn stressed that first responders are neighbors, and preparedness begins in the home – with knowledge as simple as how to turn off gas or water lines.

FEMA wants to shore up the communities’ ability to operate through disruptions by looking at enabling national business continuity as a government, he said.

Focusing on the community’s role recognizes that the private sector owns the majority of the infrastructure and underscores the importance of addressing interdependencies – such as telecommunications – and their fragilities.

Hoffman said that investments in system-hardening performed under the Recovery Act of 2009 have been shown to be effective, for example, by the dramatic decrease in electricity loss experienced in Florida during Hurricane Irma last year compared to Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Among the DOE’s top priorities, she said, are advancing grid modeling to get a good sense of interdependencies, building an operational strategy for cybersecurity threats and developing megawatt-scale energy storage.

Both speakers underscored the importance of planning, training and preparedness exercises.

“Getting to know people during an event is not very effective,” Hoffman said.

The speakers echoed PJM President and CEO Andy Ott’s opening remarks for the General Session.

“The industry is evolving very rapidly,” he said. “We are facing quite a bit of different dimensions of change.”

Resilience goes beyond reliability, Ott said, noting that the grid is more reliable now than it ever has been.

“We are looking at the next frontier of challenges. Now, we are looking at the new era.”