EP 63 How To Protect Critical Infrastructure
[THOMAS POPIK] Once there is an electric grid outage, the clock starts ticking, because there is limited duration of backup fuel for emergency generators.
[TODD DEVOE] Hi, and welcome to the EM Weekly show. And I hope everybody had a great Memorial Day weekend, and I hope everybody took time to remember those who have fought and died for our great nation here in the United States. And for those of you throughout the rest of the world, I know that Memorial Day probably doesn’t have the same meaning, but it’s something that’s very sacred and special to those of us in the United States. Just remembering those who fought and died for our country.
So today, we’re talking about the grid with Thomas Popik, and this is a great subject as we enter into the summer months here, and this is when there’s the most strain on the grid, right? You always hear, throughout the Western United States, at least, of the flex alerts, and when ISO knows that the power is going to be shut down, they tell us to turn off the things we don’t need, don’t use your washing machines and whatnot during the peak hours, just to keep the stress off the system. And this is when, as emergency managers, we really take a look at what’s going on with the grid. So, that’s what’s coming up, good topic here, and how vulnerable and how can we, as emergency managers, how can we prepare our grid?
Before we get into the interview, I just wanted to take time so that our brothers and sisters in Maryland know that we are thinking about them during this time when they are being flooded out with heavy rains. Another storm is coming right behind this one as well, hopefully, it doesn’t impact Maryland, but more rain coming on the East Coast. So, Maryland, we are thinking about you. Reach out early, please. I know that some of our emergency managers and first responders are impacted by these flood waters. Please, reach out early, and we are here standing by for you. So Maryland, we are thinking about you.
(inaudible) trends on emergency management, check out forums.emweekly.com, and you can create groups, you can read and interact in the forums, make comments, share documents, and your ideas. And this is at forums.emweekly.com. We would love to have you over there and enjoy this interaction with this great emergency management community. Let’s get into the interview.
[TODD DEVOE] I’m excited today to have Tom Popik with me. And he is the chairman and president-director of the Foundation for Resilient Societies. And it’s really cool to be doing a follow-up right now, basically after Michael Mabee’s book and the interview that we did regarding the grid, and this organization that we’re talking to today is all about the electric grid and even deeper. So, Thomas, welcome to this show, and tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into working on this topic.
[THOMAS POPIK] Certainly. Thank you very much for having me on the show. I am the president of the Foundation for Resilient Societies. We advocate for greater critical infrastructure protection, in particular, the electric grid, which is the keystone of our infrastructure. One of our distinctive activities is to appear in the federal rule-making dockets at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That’s a pretty obscure part of the federal government that has an important function, and that it approves all the reliability and security standards for the US electric grid. So that’s a little bit about myself and what we do.
[TODD DEVOE] So, looking over at some of the stuff that you’re doing here, and I was looking at your priorities, and so, you have four priorities, specifically, with the electrical grid. You have the solar systems– solar storms, I mean. The electromagnetic pulse, a physical attack, and then the cyber-attack. So, let’s kind of delve into each one of these areas really quick, and tell me what the concerns are, specifically, about the power grid. So let’s talk about the solar storms in general first. Is this a real concern?
[THOMAS POPIK] Sure, that’s a great place to start. Periodically, the sun ejects a mass of charged particles. Sometimes these charge particles just go floating off into space. But sometimes, the particles hit the earth. When these charge particles impact the earth’s magnetic field, the flux of magnetic field, and this deflection then can induce current and long conductors. So you may say, what kind of long conductors do we have here on earth?
Well, we have telecommunication lines, but also the transmission lines of the electric grid. When the currents are induced through these transmission lines, they affect the transformers at the end of the lines, causing the transformers to overheat and prematurely fail. This has happened in previous small solar storms, but the concern is if there was a severe solar storm, many of these transformers would fail simultaneously. In the process of failing, they also overheat and consume what it’s called reactive power. This can cause a cascading collapse of the electric grid. Already in March 1989, the electric grid in Quebec, Canada, collapsed during a moderate solar storm. So our concern is a severe solar storm could collapse the US electric grid on a continent-wide scale, and in the process, damage these very difficult to replace extra-high-voltage transformers.
[TODD DEVOE] What’s the recovery time for if we get hit with a major solar storm?
[THOMAS POPIK] Well, there’s a couple of ways to look at this. First, how long could a solar storm last? And they could last for over a week. It may be then over a week to restore the electric grid, just assuming that there hasn’t been equipment damage. But if there is equipment damage, a lot of these large transformers are manufactured overseas. The typical time to replace these transformers is one to two years.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow.
[THOMAS POPIK] We’re really talking about a long recovery time for one of these solar storms impacting the US electric grid.
[TODD DEVOE] I want to go to the next one here, which is the electromagnetic pulse, also known as EMP. And I interviewed William Forstchen, on his book, “One Second After,” and subsequent to other books he has after that. And so, kind of talking a little bit about this and what it means, but what does the EMP– I guess as an attack. What does that mean for us as the grid?
[THOMAS POPIK] Sure. First off, let me explain a little bit about nuclear EMP. That would occur with a nuclear weapon that’s detonated in the atmosphere, at an altitude between, say, 40km and 400km. Depending on the altitude, it would produce a series of electromagnetic pulses, radiating downward within the line of sight to earth. There is a short pulse that would affect sensitive electronics, for example, integrated circuits.
And then the longer pulse, it would be very similar to the effect of a solar storm. It would affect, mostly, long conductors, and then that would be transformers that are attached to transmission lines. So that kind of a nuclear attack could collapse the US electric grid, and in the process, also damage a lot of equipment, which would make restoration difficult.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow, so we’re talking like, a long-term recovery after something like that, especially with the equipment being made overseas, right?
[THOMAS POPIK] Yes. We’re talking about a recovery timeframe that would be about three years.
[TODD DEVOE] And this is something that, when people lose power for a couple of hours or so, it kind of puts them to a tizzy, I can imagine what would happen without power for a few months, or a few weeks, for that matter.
[THOMAS POPIK] Certainly. Even losing power for days would have an enormous societal impact. But you’re correct, losing power for weeks, months, or years would really have severe impact on other critical infrastructures that we all depend on. The water system and wastewater systems, that could be number one. But telecommunications would also be very significant, and ultimately, food distribution would be affected too.
[TODD DEVOE] So let’s get into that in a little bit here. I want to go into the next two priorities that you guys have, and the one, I think, is kind of interesting, was that in 2013– and you guys talk about this a little bit on your website as well, when one of the substations in Northern California was attacked. And basically, you guys will remember this, it was basically– the AK47 round was fired into one of the substations.
From that, there was a series of unknown packages, some bottles that were thrown into– acid bottles were thrown into some of the other substations. And so much so, that Southern California (inaudible) and a couple of the other– I’m not sure if San Diego did it or not, but I know So Cal (inaudible) did, and I think PG&E did. They put security guards in front of other substations for a long period of time. Let’s talk about the physical attack and what does it mean on the grid.
[THOMAS POPIK] Physical attack, that’s certainly a very serious vulnerability for the Us electric grid. I’ll just tell you what has been published in the newspaper. The Wall Street Journal has disclosed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission did a study and determined that there are nine critical substations in the United States. If these substations were to be attacked, it would have a destabilizing effect on the electric grid.
I tend to think that The Oracle stated the implications rather broadly. I think that the nuance of that study that was leaked, it may not have been captured by the article. But certainly, it’s true that there are critical substations in the United States, if they were physically affect, could destabilize the US electrical grid, and cause a cascading collapse.
[TODD DEVOE] So how long would we be down, without power, if something like that occurred? If the terrorists decided to attack our physical grid?
[THOMAS POPIK] I think that the (inaudible) substation incident, it is a good way to look at this. During that (inaudible), the radiators for the transformers were shot out. It’s fortunate that the control room at PG&E was able to monitor the temperature of the transformers and shut them down before they overheated and caused a fire. If you have a transformer that catches fire or explodes, that’s a total replacement. And again, the lead time for that kind of replacement is months or years. If that circumstance is prevented by good instrumentation, monitoring, and transformers, then the recovery time would be a lot shorter. It would be replacing the damaged components of the transformer, and then restoring that substation.
[TODD DEVOE] And that brings us into the next one, the cyber-attack. Which seems to be, in the news, as of late, we’ve had talks about the Russians going into our elections and stuff like this. And obviously, data is being stolen every day, from major companies and small companies alike. So cyber-attacks are a real deal. What does a cyber-attack look like on the grid, and how realistic is it that the grid is not protected from cyber-attacks?
[THOMAS POPIK] Well, the grid has cyber-attack issues because the grid is directly or indirectly connected to the public internet. The public internet is really the source of almost all cyber-attacks. So how does that inter-connection occur? Well, first of all, electric utilities have corporate systems or business systems, as they’re called. These are systems that employees use for all manner of things; web browsing, sending, and receiving emails, keeping track of financial reports for what’s going on at the utilities, word processing, all that kind of thing.
So you can just imagine, with your own personal computer, that’s connected to the internet, and that’s essential. The problem comes when these businesses, corporate systems, are connected to what is called the operational technology, or the part of the computer system to the utility that is actually used to flip switches in the electric grid, or control generation plants. The scenario that we’re concerned about is if an attacker comes in through the public internet into the business systems of an electric utility, and then pops over into the operational systems of the utility, then flip switches or down powers generation, causing a blackout.
There is another concern as well, and that is, electric utilities that use the public internet for communication between control rooms and substations. So if that connection is insecure and is via the public internet, there is the opportunity to take over control of substations. There is also another vulnerability called remote access. And this would be when vendors install equipment in substations and periodically, this equipment, the firmware, the software code that’s embedded in the equipment may need to be updated for maintenance purposes.
And sometimes, this vendor equipment have been connected to the public internet to make the update process or the maintenance process less expensive for vendors. That causes a big risk too, because if the vendors (inaudible) words are compromised for remote access, then that’s an avenue for cyber-attacks. But fortunately, there is a new cybersecurity regulation that is being considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, that would resolve a lot of these remote access issues.
[TODD DEVOE] So, in general, we have two of our concerns here, the physical attack and the cyber-attack. Something that we can monitor and at least prevent, at best, those two scenarios. So, the ones that are really concerning at this point, then, are going to be the solar storms, which we have no control over, and the EMP, which is, realistically, another form of attack, right? Let’s just say, for instance– now that we know what the concerns are, a couple that we can prepare for, we can try to stop. Two that we can sort of prepare for.
And the grid, as most of us in emergency management know, or at least have a basic understanding of, is it does have some issues and it is vulnerable in a good day. I mean, we’ve had two really good examples of that. One was the Northeastern blackout a couple of years ago, and then a couple of years after that, we had the blackout from the West Coast in California and Arizona. Can we talk about those two issues and how that showed where our vulnerabilities are?
[THOMAS POPIK] Certainly. I’ll discuss each of those in turn. So, for the 2003 Northeast blackout, it showed that the electric grid can have cascading failure. That failure started in the Midwest. The proximate cause was a transmission line contacting a tree branch. But there were a lot of contributing factors. The cascade went all the way to New York City and caused the blackout of about 50 million people, for nearly about 24 hours. That showed the vulnerabilities to cascade in the Eastern part of the country.
And the incident in 2011 you referred to, did start in Arizona. A technician of the substation through a switch without going through a checklist properly. He was looking at the checklist, but he was interrupted in that process, and therefore, threw a switch that wasn’t supposed to be thrown at that point in time. The cascade then started that in that substation in Arizona and went all the way to Southern California, blacking out over a million people. So, both of those incidents show how susceptible the electric grid is to cascade, and those weren’t deliberate incidents. You can imagine if there’s a physical attack, there may be multiple sources for the cascade, likewise with a cyber-attack.
[TODD DEVOE] How fragile is the electric system today?
[THOMAS POPIK] Let me put it this way. I think there’s a lot more that can be done to protect the electric grid. In some ways, the electric grid is robust. I think it’s robust to weather-related outages, although people complain, it’s rare to get any kind of cascade from, say, ice loading on transmission lines and that kind of thing. So I think that grid operators do a very good job. As a matter of fact, I think that grid operators do an excellent job handling events which occur pretty frequently, and these events do not cause cascading outage and electric grid collapse.
But the problem comes for events which rarely occur, such as solar storms or events which haven’t occurred yet. For example, a coordinated physical and cyber-attack. That’s where we, as a society, have to spend a lot of time making the grid more robust and resilient.
[TODD DEVOE] Ok, so we lose power. So people have to rely upon candles or battery-operated light for a couple of days. What’s the big deal?
[THOMAS POPIK] The big deal is that, once there is an electric grid outage, the clock starts ticking, because there is limited duration of backup fuel for emergency generators. For example, most cell phone powers have a (inaudible) of about 24 hours of backup of fuel. So you’re talking about a blackout that lasts a couple of days. Well, about 24 hours into that couple of days, people are going to lose a lot of their communication from cell phones. And I think that would be a pretty big impact. A lot of people don’t even have landlines now, so it would be certainly very difficult for them to communicate.
I’ll tell you another reason, even a short blackout of a couple of days is a very big deal. Past blackouts have shown, the emergency diesel generators at hospitals, fire stations, police stations, these critical first responders, those diesel generators don’t always reliably operate. So, we could expect, I would say, about 25% of emergency diesel generators to not operate initially or to fail soon after they were called upon. So, again, even just a couple days blackout, if it’s a widespread, could have very significant impacts, especially in institutions such as hospitals, that are dependent on continuous power for patient care.
[TODD DEVOE] What about water and sewer?
[THOMAS POPIK] Both water treatment systems do not have 100% backup generation. The water systems simply just take too much energy out of the grid for there to be emergency diesel generators to provide 100%. Now, there are some communities that have water towers, and there may be, say, 24 hours of water in the air. That’s what’s called water in the air. That means water up in the tower. So, after power is taken out to those kind of gravity systems, the residents of those communities could expect service for hours, or maybe even days, if the water is carefully conserved. But without the grid being restored, we’re going to find out that water treatment systems simply aren’t going to continue to function very long.
[TODD DEVOE] And there’s an issue with sewer, correct? Pumping stations and stuff like that?
[THOMAS POPIK] Certainly. Any kind of sewage system, there’s pumping required, the electric power requirements for that pumping are substantial, and so, what will happen– and this is very unfortunate, sewer systems are designed to work where there is a mixture of water and waste. So, if it’s just waste flowing into the system, then those systems are going to get clogged up, and it may be very difficult to get them unclogged. In fact, there may be permanent damage to the systems, if the mixture of water and waste isn’t as it would be in normal times.
So, you’re right. A power outage that would persist for several days could have very massive impacts, both on water treatment and on our sewer systems.
[TODD DEVOE] In general, I mean, we are a society today that is built upon technology and electricity. I mean, outside just the lights and the comforts of having electricity in your house, maybe even heat, even if you have oil-burning heat at your house, like in the Northeast, it still requires electricity to start the boilers and al that kind of stuff. So, since we are relying in electricity and these things, I mean, everybody goes to the stores, they use their ATM cards, they work online, go to school online, you know, all the stuff is requiring power. So, as a society today, this is a critical, critical issue, more than just a comfort issue, correct?
[THOMAS POPIK] You’re absolutely correct. Continuous electric power is essential for modern societies. At the same time, our society is problem coming to grips with what it takes to provide that power. For example, right now, there is a debate going on about a resilient generation, and how much resilient generation with fuel stored on-site our society is willing to pay for. That debate, again, is ongoing at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, and among the utilities.
Here, we’re at the Foundation for Resilient Societies, headquartered in New England, the grid operator, which should be ISO New England came out with a report just in January of this year with 23 scenarios during times of grid stress, and for the vast majority of those scenarios, there would be rolling blackouts. When I talk about rolling blackouts, I’m not talking about an hour or two, I’m talking for up to 100 hours over a period that could be a week or longer. So, these are very significant, potential societal impacts. And for the ISO New England scenarios, we’re not even talking about an attack or some kind of deliberate action, we’re just talking about what could happen when it gets cold outside, when there is a cold snap.
So again, we are very dependent, as a society, on reliable electric power. But we’re also having trouble coming to grips with what’s required to make sure that secure and reliable power is delivered.
[TODD DEVOE] And on the West Coast, in California, we have that issue as well. And ours is the opposite, not when it gets cold out, that normally occurs in the summertime, when there’s a really big demand on the power due to air conditioning, and things like that. And we’ll go through the flex alerts, as they call it, and asking us to turn things off, and not to use the air conditioner during peak hours.
And it seems to be an inconvenience for people, you know, people complain about it, “It’s during peak hours when I’m the hottest, it’s when I want the temperature in my house to be 70 degrees.” And it’s sometimes hard to get people to understand what’s going on and to participate in that flex alert. How do we really, as emergency managers, how can we embrace this concept that’s going on here, these issues that are going on, and educate our community about the real issues that go with electrical power in the United States?
[THOMAS POPIK] That’s an excellent question. I would say, first of all, when a grid operator such as ISO New England comes out with the report, saying that rolling blackouts can be expected during cold snaps, the community and emergency planners really need to pay attention. What are the applications for the community, for example, for an urban area? Would a curfew be called? Would pharmacies be guarded by the police during times of electric grid outage? Will there be advance notice for rolling blackouts? For city officials or to the public?
We really need to think through the implications of this, because if there is advanced notice to the public of rolling blackouts, you can see that the public could take proactive steps, but at the same time, criminals in the society could take advantage. I don’t think that we, as a country, have really thought through a lot of these issues, of what would happen if there were rolling blackouts, or a blackout of a day, or a week, or longer. We haven’t come to grips with this. Also, for a long-term blackout, that’s a blackout that persists per days. Let’s say, more than 72 hours. Those a very, very difficult to plan for.
There’s an old expression which is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It really is important to have appropriate standards for grid reliability, security, and resilience in place, so that we can prevent these blackouts that may persist, for example, for 72 hours. It’s very difficult for any emergency planner to plan for that kind of event.
[TODD DEVOE] So, one of the other issues associated with the blackout, and it’s kind of odd, I was watching this program the other day, and it brought a really good point, and I think about it. It’s the whole life without people show that was on Discovery Channel, I think it is.
[THOMAS POPIK] Right.
[TODD DEVOE] And part of it, they talk about how in “x” amount of time, the nuclear power plants are going to have a major meltdown, because they can’t keep their rods covered with water, because of evaporation. How long would that take? How many months would it take for that water to evaporate, for those rods to be exposed and have an issue, specifically?
[THOMAS POPIK] Todd, thank you very much for that question. My group, the Foundation for Resilient Societies has done quite a bit of work on that issue. As a matter of fact, in 2011, about three weeks before the events of Fukushima, we submitted a 100-page petition for rule-making, to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, asking for greater protection of spent fuel pools. Again, just the kind of event that you’re talking about, a long-term loss of electric power for cooling. Fukushima amply demonstrated that when spent fuel pools lack electricity or cooling, they start boiling off pretty quickly. They start boiling off in a day or two, depending on how hot the rods are, how recently those spent fuel rods were taken out of the reactor.
And then the question is, how long before the boiling dissolves and the water level getting to the top of the fuel rods? These fuel rods have a zirconium cladding. When this cladding hits open air, there’s a strong exothermic reaction, which is similar to a fire. That would result in large quantities of radiation, of radioactive material, therefore radiation being emitted, in a (inaudible) that could extend dozens or even hundreds of miles on downwind from a spent fuel pool. So, that is an extraordinary threat.
We have proposed to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that long-term cooling of spent fuel pools be required. And how can this be done? Well, it can be done with something that’s called makeup water. So, we just pump enough water into the pools, such that the top of the rods would remain covered. The requirements of electricity for makeup water are pretty minimal, and they can be accomplished in a number of different ways. The makeup water would have to continue to be pumped in for a long enough period that the rods would cool down, and therefore, wouldn’t catch fire. So we’re talking about makeup water being pumped for a year or two.
And one of the power sources that might be able to do that, well, we identified several in our petition. But you could imagine that solar panels with batteries to store the energy might be a source for the pumps, for a long-term makeup water and that kind of thing. So the threat that you bring up is really a severe threat, and we proposed a solution. It’s unfortunate, though, that petition for rule-making has been pending at the NRC since 2011, and there has not been final action on that, even as we speak, today.
[TODD DEVOE] Interesting you talk about 2011, because the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in California lost power during that event. And that was one of those issues that we had to deal with. The generators came back, they had generators, but they lost power from San Diego.
[THOMAS POPIK] Sure, that blackout was about a 24-hour blackout.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOMAS POPIK] 24 hours is long enough for the spent fuel pools to boil off. So I think that the spent fuel pools were amply safe during that event. The energy you point out, the emergency diesel generators, started up, and they were able to provide cooling for the reactor.
[TODD DEVOE] Right. But it could have, if it was a long-term thing? That’s what we’re talking about at this point.
[THOMAS POPIK] If it was a long-term thing, the impact would have been horrific. There is no doubt about that.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow. That’s literally down the street from where we do our stuff. I mean, we are in the EPC where I work. So yeah, interesting. Okay, cool. Thanks for that. So, I was going to ask you about solar. You kind of brought this up, specifically, with the makeup water. Solar, if you are– not off-grid, but if you’re down the grid with solar power and a battery backup, are you going to be impacted by any of these issues that we’re talking about?
[THOMAS POPIK] You’re going to be impacted greatly. You may have the power to recharge your cell phone, but the cell phone towers are going to run out of electricity from the emergency diesel generators, because those generators are going to run out of fuel. The police stations, the fire stations, the hospitals, may also run out of backup fuel. It’s a myth to think that if you have solar panels for your house and you’re able to keep a little bit of electricity going to your house, so you can turn on lights at night and that kind of thing, it’s a myth to think that in the long-term, you’re going to be ok. You’re going to be more comfortable in the very short-term. But once we get the– I’d say, 72 hours, having those solar panels really isn’t going to protect you from the societal effects of a long-term power outage.
[TODD DEVOE] Speaking of societal effects, and I know that back in the– oh my gosh, I can’t remember the year. I think it was in the 60’s, when New York City had the big blackout, and because of the blackout, there was spike in crime and riots? What year was that that happened? Do you remember?
[THOMAS POPIK] I’m sorry, I didn’t hear. What was the timing of the event that you’re talking about?
[TODD DEVOE] The New York City blackout, the famous one. Let me look, I forget what year it happened.
[THOMAS POPIK] Yeah, well, New York City had several blackouts, and the most recent one, in 2003, order was maintained. But in one of the blackouts prior to that, there was rioting and looting, and that kind of thing.
[TODD DEVOE] 1977, that’s when it occurred.
[THOMAS POPIK] Yeah, thank you.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah. So, it was July 13th to the 14th of 1977, when there was a big blackout in New York City, between Queens and the Rockaways. And during those times, there was a series of looting, and rioting, and as soon as the sun went down, the crime spiked. Do you think that would be a normal– I don’t want to say normal, but would that be a result of a long-term blackout? Will we see that type of civil unrest again?
[THOMAS POPIK] Well, let’s think through this. If people don’t have water to drink and food to eat, and this is persistent for a week or two, I think that the chance that people would go out and try to find food on their own, I think that’s almost a certainty. You can call what you will at that point in time. Now, if we’re talking about civil unrest, the very first night after a blackout, that’s something that I would hope wouldn’t happen. But I think in some communities there is a good chance that kind of thing would happen.
So I really think that we need to make a distinction in terms of civil unrest, or looting, and that kind of thing, between– in the very early hours of a blackout, where if people just shelter in place and stay put, things are going to be ok. And then, compare that to a longer-term situation, where, frankly, people are just trying to survive.
[TODD DEVOE] So it’s something we probably should be thinking about when we’re doing our power outage or utility failure planning, which may take into consideration of what the societal impact is of the power outage in general. And I don’t ask that question before, but I just wanted to kind of pop back on to that. How do we prepare our communities for a potential power outage? I mean, do we just talk about the hazardous stuff again, like in California, we really focus on earthquakes. I mean, is it a fear (inaudible) if we tell them, “Hey, be prepared for power outages as well”? How do we prepare the community without making it sound like we’re doomsday preppers?
[THOMAS POPIK] I think that communities need to have a serious discussion, and maybe even a task force with public safety officials and the leadership of these municipalities, and the emergency planners for the local utilities. So, I’m talking about the police chief, the fire chief, the heads of the hospitals, the mayor, emergency planners in the municipality. We’re talking about– for the larger municipalities, a representative from FEMA as well. Mayors should be aware of this, they would have to be involved in every detail.
But to plan out things in advance and understand, ok, we are now in a blackout, the blackout was not predicted. It occurred at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, now the sun is setting. Is there a plan to call a curfew or not? Is there a plan to bring squad cars to pharmacies or not? Is there a plan to manually direct traffic at major intersections or not? These are the kinds of things that really need to be considered in advance, because as a society, we will have blackouts. There are just too many vulnerabilities, too many potential causes of blackouts. Some of them are natural disasters, some of them could be deliberate.
But to not plan in advance and figure out what the response of municipalities or first responders to these kinds of events, to not do this kind of emergency planning in advance, I think it’s just irresponsible. As a society, we need to come to grips with this, especially as we have become ever-more dependent on reliable and secure electric power.
[TODD DEVOE] Wow, some pretty heavy stuff. If somebody wants to learn more about what you guys are doing, how can they find more information on your organization?
[THOMAS POPIK] Great question. There is a couple of really good ways. First of all, go to our website. It’s www.resilientsocieties.org. We have a lot of material there, we testified in Washington, D.C. several times, the testimonies are up on the website. We’ve also contributed to many different rule-making and standard settings for good reliability and security standards, all that material is on our website. We have background material about the threats that we talked about today, solar storms, nuclear EMT, physical attacks, cyber-attacks, that’s all on our website.
And then for people who want updates as to what’s currently going on, I recommend our Twitter feed, which is @resilientgrid. And we typically tweet about once or twice a day with current news items about electric grid security. So, those are two great sources.
[TODD DEVOE] Ok, here comes the toughest question of the day. So what book or books do you recommend to people who are interested in learning more about this issue?
[THOMAS POPIK] There is a number of books out there, but there are two excellent books by Michael Mabee on emergency planning for grid outages. So, Michael Mabee has some broad experience, he’s been a suburban policeman, an emergency medical technician, he served in the US Army in two tours of deployment in Iraq, as a command sergeant major. And again, he’s the author of two excellent books on emergency planning. So, I would recommend those.
And then there are other books which are more technical, and then let’s not forget there’s some fictional accounts, such as “One Second After” by Bill Forstchen. I think that I’ve had some differences with some of the details of the scenario in the book, but I think the basic thrust is correct, that there is going to be enormous societal implications to any kind of long-term grid outage.
[TODD DEVOE] Awesome, really good recommendations. And just for the record, Michael Mabee is a contributing author for EM Weekly, so I second to your pinning on those books. Well, thank you so much for your time today, sir. Is there anything else that you’d like to say before we let you go?
[THOMAS POPIK] I think that you had some really excellent questions today, Todd, and I very much appreciate the opportunity to be on your show. Thank you.
Links and Information
EM Weekly Information
EM Weekly www.emweekly.com
Titan HST https://www.titanhst.com/
The Blue Cell http://www.thebluecell.com/
The Emergency Managers Leaders Conference http://emlc.us/