Is there something we can learn here?
Recent news of the power outage affecting 80% of the electrical grid in Pakistan, impacting approximately 140 million people should have been more than a mere blip on the news wire services here in the U.S.
Pakistani government sources announced that terrorist bombing by separatist rebels damaged transmission line towers of a private power company connected to the national grid. Electricity was restored later the same day and normal service was resumed.
Pakistan’s electricity distribution system is a complex – and delicate – web. A major fault at one section often leads to chain reactions and breakdowns of power generation and transmission. In fact, problems and interruptions of electrical utility service are not all that uncommon in Pakistan.
So why treat this as news?
First is the sheer number of impacted individuals. 140 million people all without electricity is huge.
This latest incident could be instructive to the U.S. electric grid industry providers. Secondly, it can be underscored that the electric infrastructure was the target of a terrorist attack. Politically motivated Individuals think they can gain leverage or attention for their cause by attacking public utilities. We know that ease of restoration and repair of transmission lines would not be so immediate had this attack been an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event.
Not that going nuclear is within the capabilities of your average rebel separatist.
On the other hand, it’s not too far-fetched to recognize that the capacity for inflicting much more permanent damage to electric grid components is not beyond the reach of the above-average, better organized terrorist group. Is it conceivable that some anti-government plotters could have highly-placed military operatives in on the scheme to slip them some advanced weaponry for achieving a more fatal blow?
The fact that 80 % of an entire nation’s electric grid shut down for even a short time illustrates how vulnerable and inter-connected transmission services actually are. Now it will be argued that the U.S. grid is much more sophisticated and robust than that of Pakistan. Candidly, I’m not an industry expert.
I can report however that I have read expert opinions that have criticized the current state of the vulnerabilities of U.S. critical infrastructures. Those analysts that have studied the matter essentially define our existing electric grid as a conglomeration of temporary and a somewhat haphazard, assemblage of equipment and components that got cobbled together over the last 100 years or so.
More than a few industry insiders will tell you that our grid is overdue for a major upgrade and has some of the same faults and weaknesses as the less advanced 3rd world nations. The gist of their argument is that we have a grid composed of obsolete and outdated equipment susceptible to sabotage by fanatics.
Fried Semiconductors and Microprocessors
So maybe our top national security insiders quietly took notice of Pakistan’s massive power failure and are busy behind the scenes getting the utility companies to retrofit hardwire upgrades.
Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. A lot of company revenues and profits are at stake when you start talking about large equipment purchase acquisitions. That’s why we have covered legislative efforts by Congress and emphasized the importance of government regulation.
It’s going to take some heavy duty carrot and stick inducements by regulatory authorities to get the utility companies to make the necessary investments in modernizing and hardening of the commercial, civilian infrastructure.
That’s why it would be reassuring to learn that our policymakers and industry titans have not just watched what happens when terrorists target a nation’s electric grid, but are presently improving the security of our installations nationwide.
Smart, forward-thinking professionals should heed the example offered by this latest grid-down episode and beef-up their efforts to protect the grid without further delay.