Monday, August 08, 2016

"U.S. Grid Safety" townhall held on "Your Voice, Your Future" series from Sinclair Broadcasting

On Monday, August 8, 2016, Sinclair Broadcasting Company aired a closed roundtable (with a user question facility by Twitter for the Town Hall), “Your Voice, Your Future: U.S. Grid Safety”.  The best link is here  I will supply a link for a video when it becomes available.

The roundtable was physically held in a Fox 11 studio in Green Bay, WI, although the Sinclair Broadcast Group from Baltimore, MD owns the event.  ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington announced the event on its website but did not say where it would be viewed or aired.  It also said 7 PM EST – it turned out it was 7 OM EDT.  The WJLA website gave a link which got caught in an advertising loop but which, when retried, connected properly to the session in Wisconsin at 8:11 PM, so I did watch about 45 minutes.  The session on this critical subject matter was available only by online streaming in the DC area.

A second hour was to occur at 7 PM CDT (8 PM EDT) but I could not get the Wisconsin Fox stream to connect.

The moderator was Frank Gaffney, president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy.
Also participating were Thomas Popik, president of the Foundation for Resilient Societies, Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin businessman, and Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin (Republican).
An important website resource is “Secure the Grid”.  The group offers a book “Guilty Knowledge: What the U.S. Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, but Refuses to Fix”, $6, which I ordered in paperback from Amazon, and will review soon on my Wordpress media blog.

Gaffney laid out a scenario where a major terror attack or possibly a Carrington-style solar storm could leave people in a major swath of the country without power for weeks or months.  Diesel generators would start to fail as fuel ran out.  People would only gradually realize what had happened.

Depending on how an event unfolded, the poor and vulnerable might die the most quickly, but money could become worthless, and people would be stuck with what they have.

Generally, the US gets about one grid attack every four days.  Most of them are small, and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation tends to deny them.

The physical attack on a substation in the Silicon Valley in April 2013 could have taken down much of the Bay Area for weeks.  The perpetrators haven’t been caught.

Popik made three suggestions for citizens.  One was investing in local infrastructure, and making local utilities generate more of their own.  Another was to eliminate barriers from citizens’ attaching their own solar cells or wind turbines to the grid.  A third was to learn personal resilience – to try living like the Amish for a day.

One study says that technical improvements in capacitance could protect transformers from Carrington Style events could be made for about $1/day per consumer.  In the USnNorthern areas (including Wisconsin) are more vulnerable to solar storms than the south, because magnetic disturbances (causing transformer overloads) are greatest in polar regions (where the strongest auroras occur).

There are some companies that make transformers in the US, in Goldsboro NC,  Wausau WI, and Lynchburg VA and Roanoke VA, and some in Louisiana.  But the US could have extreme difficulty in replacing transformers quickly and moving them where they are needed.

Portions of the power grid “Interconnects” are connected to the public Internet, in a layered fashion.  This can make them vulnerable to very determined  foreign hackers, but the critical pieces do have extensive security even compared to banks and most US agencies.

There was some comparison between a major high altitude EMP blast and all-out nuclear war.  There was a general feeling that NORAD should be as able to stop a continent-sized event as it would be to stop an ICBM -- but what about North Korea in a few years?

There was a curious discussion from Twitter as to whether a program like this “gives enemies ideas”.  They’ve already thought of this.

One panelist mentioned the critical nature of the training and screening of power company security people.  Had the security guard who attacked the Pulse in Orlando been employed at a power company, there might have been an even bigger catastrophe for the public.

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