July 27th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

DoD official: Vulnerability of U.S. electrical grid is a dire concern

By Dan Merica

Speaking candidly at the Aspen Security Forum, one defense department official expressed great concern about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the U.S. electric grid that would cause a “long term, large scale outage.”

Paul Stockton, assistant secretary for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs at the Department of Defense, said such an attack would affect critical defense infrastructure at home and abroad – a thought that Stockton said was keeping him up at night.

Also from Aspen: A failing grade for US readiness to deal with cyber attacks

“The DOD depends on infrastructure in order to be able to operate abroad. And to make those operations function, we depend on the electric grid,” Stockton said.

The concern, Stockton continued, was that America’s adversaries would avoid attacking “the pointy end of the spear,” meaning combat troops, and would instead look for homeland, possibly non-military, targets.

“Our adversaries, state and non-state, are not stupid. They are clever and adaptive,” Stockton said. “There is a risk that they will adopt a profoundly asymmetric strategy, reach around and attack us here at home, the critical infrastructure that is not owned by the Department of Defense.”

But Stockton’s concerns were not solely limited to terrorist attacks. Other concerning scenarios, said the assistant secretary, include geomagnetic disturbances, earthquakes and other natural disasters that could take down the grid.

According to Stockton, a recurrence of a massive earthquake, like the New Madrid earthquake of 1812, “would cause a power outage for weeks to months across a multi-state area, rolling blackouts in the East Coast…”

The New Madrid earthquakes hit along the Mississippi River in the town of New Madrid (now part of Missouri) and is still considered one of the largest earthquakes to ever hit the Eastern United States.

In response to a scenario like this, Stockton told the crowd that the Department of Defense is working with power companies in the Washington area – namely Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Virginia Dominion – and giving these companies “a new design basis for the grid of the future that takes into account cyber threats and other emerging threats.”

Additionally, the three power companies and the Department of Defense are determining, in case of a massive outage, who gets their power restored first, according to Stockton.

Even with the dire outlook, Stockton said that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is making strides in how to respond to these outages, including changing the way defense supports civil authorities and provides life saving and life sustaining capabilities.

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  1. In home personal training

    I agree with the defense department, I'm concerned about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the U.S. electric grid that would cause a “long term, large scale outage.” It could be disaster for our economy.

    April 16, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Reply
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    March 17, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Reply
  3. The Best Value Electrical Distributor

    Likewise, we provide the infrastructure manufacturers need to bring their products to market.

    August 30, 2012 at 11:24 am | Reply
  4. Seeing is believing

    TRUE ENERGY INDEPENDENCE IS A SOLAR PANEL ON EVERY HOME, NOT BUYING ENERGY OR ELECTRIC FROM ANY CORPORATION OR A GOVERNMENT. THEY WANT US DEPENDENT ON A GRID SCAM. GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIT AMERICANS, STOP THE MONOPOLY LOCK ON ENERGY. AND CUT DEFENSE BUDGETS BY 25% NOW.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  5. Seeing is believing

    Sounds like a Military preemptive warning to Americans that the US Army will be infiltrating American Society with a FALSE FLAG Power outages. They will cut the power blame it on terrorists, and then the Army Marches in, no questions asked. Its time to CUT MILITARY BUDGETS BY 25% IMMEDIATELY.. They have to much time on their hands they need to invent problems to justify their existence. NO THANKS WE DON'T NEED THE ARMYS HELP IN ANY MANNER, GO INVADE SOME OTHER COUNTRY, NOT OURS. I WOULD RATHER BE WITHOUT OF ELECTRICITY THAN AN INVASION OF ARMED FORCES SPYING IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS. WATCH WHEN HE SAYS THIS, LIKE HE IS MISLEADING AND LYING FOR THE REAL REASON TO INVADE AMERICANS CITIES. NDAA IS LIVE AND KICKING, AND THEY ARE PLOTTING THEIR NEXT SCAM TO INVADE SOMEBODY.. CONNECT THE DOTS FOLKS.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
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    For many in the electrical industry, this debate is a no-brainer: Direct buying and selling just isn’t a practical, all-encompassing solution. There are, however, people who continue to like to undermine our channel.The Best Value Electrical Distributor

    August 16, 2012 at 9:49 am | Reply
  7. geff

    Having retired from our local gas and electricity company, I can tell you that preparing for a 200 year earthquake is not feasible. When constructing physical structures for the grid, the best materials and techniques are used.
    That said, the best way to assure survive ability, from natural causes is good maintenance. When it does suffer damage good management has the right personnel, equipment and material to repair it quickly.

    August 2, 2012 at 8:08 am | Reply
  8. CalvinGrant

    well, that's great that they make their fears known to potential insurgents. The next step is publicize the exact spots, possiblities, security vulerabilites, and amounts and how to's and tell them we'd really be screwed if you decided to hit us here and here in these places... lol. Publicize your fears and they will rule you with fear. This should be handled by intelligent people with intelligent solutions. Fire him immediately, how did he get in to begin with?

    July 31, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
    • Juan Bernal

      Do you really think that potential enemies who might strike against our infrastructure only learn about those potential targets because someone like Paul Stockton mentions them in trying to arouse attention to this type of threat? You really think that people who may want to strike against the USA haven't already figured that one out?

      July 31, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
    • geff

      Bingo! Power has been working just fine w/o DoD. This is just the government encroaching further into our lives. I think I don't like Uncle Sam's finger on the off switch.
      One way to shut down the internet is to shut off the power. At that point military and law enforcement will be the only ones who can communicate.

      August 2, 2012 at 7:56 am | Reply
  9. yourinmyface

    SonofTesla: it is also clear that you understand very little about proper grammar and hygiene and girls and boats and south american dung beetles. So in your face weirtard.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  10. Doug

    Oh, yes, we need to be careful, we don't want a New Madrid earthquake in 1812 !!!!

    Wait a minute, there was no electricity in 1812 !!! It probably took a long time, because it
    was in the days before trucks could deliver supplies.

    I agree that something needs to be done about the electrical grid. The problem is very very serious.
    Please don't back up your argument with something that didn't even involve electricity.

    Thank You,

    July 31, 2012 at 8:58 am | Reply
    • baj4q

      What you don't seem to understand is, in geological terms, 200 years is like the blink of an eye. True, there was no electricity then, but, since we know that such an earthquake is possible, we should be prepared in case another such earthquake occurs. It is perfectly valid to consider the impact of this earthquake when discussing our preparedness for natural disasters.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
    • frunobulax718

      C'mon, Doug... don't be obtuse. There weren't many tall building back then eitehr. Does that mean if a New Madrid-type earthquke hits, we don't have to worry about any damage to these (newer) buildings?

      An earthquake of that magnitude today would be devastating to a lot more than our power grid.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:32 am | Reply
    • required name

      you're an idiot. read the article again.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:52 am | Reply
  11. 70071535242

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    July 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  12. dreamer96

    Large mobile electrical generators on semi truck trailers, that can be brought in quickly if the road are still usable, or by heavy lift helicopers in sections, or ships that can be used to power sections of the city...there are ways to supply backup electrical power, but they have to be built, or purchased..and there have to be plans..realistic plans that consider what the conditions might be...

    July 27, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Reply
    • dreamer96

      Even the use of electrical generators on trains...stationed around the country..that sould generate emergency electrical power in the case of a earthquake..or attack..These backup systems could be off the internet control system, but use man in the loop, for local site control...

      July 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  13. NN

    The most laughable part: and giving these companies “a new design basis for the grid of the future that takes into account cyber threats and other emerging threats.” Like the DoD is really going to instruct the power companies on how to build and manage their systems, an area about which DoD has ZERO expertise or even working knowledge. The DoD klutzes can't even build a parking for under a million bucks per space, and then it falls apart in a year.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
  14. George Patton

    Here they go again, overplaying this so-called "terrorist threat" and our vast "vulnerability" to a so-called attack. Anything to scare to public and stir up war fever! How old this gets!!!

    July 27, 2012 at 8:30 am | Reply
    • frunobulax718

      Our existing electrical grid is a piece of junk that was outdated by the 1930s. Its inefficient, overloaded, buckling under the stress from the current drought-condition heat wave (and that will continue in the future, as hot summers become the norm), and vulvernable to attacks from both human and non-human threats.

      I am more concerned about what a severe CME (coronal mass ejection) from the sun would do. The last incident of note was just prior to the Civil WAr, and it blew out telegraph lines all across the US. That kind of event would actually be worse than a cyberattack, and leave us in midieval conditions for weeks.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
      • SonofTesla

        I agree with you...a CME is a very real threat that not many people even know about. The answer to the problem is the rapid implementation of Microgrids. Read some of the published material from James Woolsey (former CIA director). The grid is waaaay out of date and extremely susceptible to external interference. Microgirds are the key. First, we need to get the homes of this country producing their own electricity...SOLAR ELECTRICITY....secondly, neighborhoods/community's should have their own isolated, ready-to-go power stations (solar,wind,geothermal, diesel generators).

        July 31, 2012 at 10:58 am |
      • g.r.r.

        @SonsofTesla, Not micro grid with generation, but microgrids with storage. By doing storage, it allows AE to work, but it also allows areas to help support others. Ideally, there would be multiple types of storage. The one that I like is thermal storage, backed up by natural gas. Its downfall is that it is only 50% efficient. However, it is also CHEAP and the only one that allows for cheap back-up.

        August 1, 2012 at 8:14 am |
      • SonofTesla

        Yes, the micro grid must certainly have storage capabilities, thermal with natural gas would be good...but it most certainly would need to be able to generate as well and function as an electrical "island".

        August 1, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • SonofTesla

      It is obvious you know very little about electricity and electrical production and distribution.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
      • SonofTesla

        @ George Patton, I'm glad their are people in this country that share your mindset...I will profit greatly in the future from your ignorance.

        July 31, 2012 at 11:01 am |

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