Hope for grid security? The federal government may actually get something done



Quick Take:  It appears the current U.S. Congress will go down in history as passing less legislation and getting less accomplished than any other. Despite its do-nothing reputation, however, it did recently take two small steps toward a safer grid.


This is important stuff. We warned you recently that smart grid cybersecurity is worse than you think. And we alerted you to the California attack on a substation that proves you need to sniper-proof your substations, now.


You may want to contact your state delegation in support of these two measures, since they would help bring badly needed research and standards. - By Jesse Berst


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the heads of two Senate committees are proposing additional minimum physical security standards for critical substations to protect against physical attacks, according to the Press-Enterprise.


In a separate development, a House committee recently passed an amendment that would provide a comprehensive study of electric grid resiliency (see below). It now needs to make it through the Senate to go into effect.


NEMA-Backed Smart Grid Study Passes House Committee


ROSSLYN, Va.â€"The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security today adopted an amendment that would result in a comprehensive assessment of actions necessary to expand and strengthen the capabilities of the electrical power system to prepare for, respond to, mitigate, and recover from a natural disaster or cyber attack. The Payne amendment is backed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).


 Offered by Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) to HR 3696 National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act and approved by voice vote, the amendment directs the National Research Council to conduct a study on the resiliency and reliability of the nation’s power grid and related issues. The committee is chaired by Michael T. McCaul (R-TX).


"Cyber threats are a major challenge as we transition to a modern electric grid,” said NEMA President and CEO Evan R. Gaddis. "NEMA commends Chairman McCaul, Congressman Payne, and members of the Homeland Security Committee for adopting this important amendment.”


Cybersecurity is only one threat facing the grid. Recent events such as Superstorm Sandy serve as a reminder that the grid is vulnerable to naturally-occurring events. A 2013 report released by the Executive Office of the President estimates that nationwide the annual cost of weather-related grid outages averages between $18 and $33 billion.


 Additionally, during today’s markup, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) raised with the committee a February 4, 2014, Wall Street Journal article detailing a physical attack on a transmission substation in California in 2013 in which multiple snipers armed with AK-47s disabled 17 high-voltage transformers.