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Securing the Electric Grid: A Decades Old Threat Demands Action Today

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As with anything in life, guaranteeing 100 percent absolute security in any situation is simply impossible.

When it comes to the nation's electrical power transmission system, however, reaching the highest attainable level of protection is of critical importance.

Unfortunately, since the 1970s - and before - what would be described as "terrorist attacks" against the nation's power grid have occurred. While such attacks have been few and far between, the impact a well-coordinated assault on just a single section of the grid has the potential for devastating effects on the economy and the health and safety of our citizens.

Such attacks do not necessarily even have to be physical attacks - as most reported attacks have been so far - on transmission lines and other facilities. A cyber-attack on the systems that control, monitor, and balance the grid could be just as devastating as the physical destruction of an important sub-station.

Thankfully, we already know how to respond to natural disasters - utilities extensively prepare reaction plans and consistently deal with bad weather, earthquakes, etc. We must now also ensure we are actively mitigating all risks to prevent destructive attacks and that our plans to recover as quickly as possible are effective.

Maintaining a highly visible security presence at important facilities and making sure that potential attackers are quite aware that the visible presence is just the tip of the defense iceberg is crucial. To an extent, this stance is similar to the Air Marshall approach - everyone knows they are out there and everyone knows that they are not on every flight; but everyone also knows that they COULD be on that specific flight, discouraging possible threats.

There are definite steps that can be taken quickly to improve the situation. Motion-sensor systems at facilities like sub-stations which immediately alert a central security hub of any unexpected activity on-site is one concept. Video surveillance systems that can be quickly and easily moved from place to place to create the impression of being watched at anytime, anywhere would also be an important addition.

I would call for the immediate creation of a public-private partnership between government and regulatory agencies along with utilities and industry organizations to investigate all possible solutions to the problem by creating "best practice" standards that will help prevent any possible future attack on one of nation's most crucial pieces of infrastructure. Let us work together, embracing new important technology, to protect this vital sector of our lives, ensuring a safe future for all.