The United States is completely unprepared for a cyberattack on the electric power grid that could lead to total economic collapse, according to a key Congressman who hosted an April hearing on the issue.
US Representative Lou Barletta (R-Pennsylvania), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, wrote in a Roll Call op-ed that such an attack would be devastating – and isn’t far-fetched.
He pointed to the December cyberattack on the Ukraine power grid that left 225,000 without electricity. It was considered the first successful attack, worldwide, on a grid.
“What happened is ominous because it reminded us that we should not believe ourselves immune to such an attack, even in the United States,” Barletta wrote. “A cyberattack on the power grid could leave millions of residents and key physical locations without power for an extended period of time. It is a discouraging fact that unlike every other hazard we are likely to face, from hurricanes to earthquakes and chemical attacks to space weather, there is no specific planning scenario to help state and local governments prepare for an extensive blackout.”
Barletta noted that FEMA Administrator Craig Fugaten was asked how long the electricity would be out following a successful cyberattack and responded, “Planning needs to be measured in weeks.” Witnesses from the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security agreed.
The officials testified that the federal government has done little planning to cope with a cyberattack on the grid, although they tried to assure him that progress is being made.
The Ukraine attack, Barletta wrote, seemed like “something from a Hollywood movie, but it was real.” The federal government, he added, must do a better job to prepare local communities.
“We must be ready to deal with disruptions in telecommunications, water and waste treatment, healthcare delivery, financial services and transportation,” he wrote.
The impact from such an attack on America’s power grid is significant, Barletta warned.
“If the goal of terrorists is to collapse our economy, then shutting down our electrical grid is where they would start,” Barletta wrote. “Most troubling is the possibility that a cyberattack would be accompanied by a physical terrorist attack, a scenario that promises true havoc, panic and loss of life. The great challenge is that the threat continues to evolve, which only means that we are forced to evolve with it and be prepared for it.”
Do you believe such an attack is inevitable? Would your community be prepared? Share your thoughts in the section below: