Power Lines Blog

Lessons from Goldilocks: What’s ‘Just Right’ on Grid Security?

By Mike Hyland, Senior Vice President, Engineering Services


Remember the story of Goldilocks and the three bears? And the little girl’s quest for porridge that was neither too hot nor too cold? A chair that was neither too big nor too small? A bed that was just right?

But why is an engineer telling you a fairy tale? Because the Goldilocks approach is exactly what we need when it comes to protecting America’s electric grid.

There are more than 400,000 circuit miles of transmission and over 45,000 bulk electric system substations in North America— so utilities must prioritize facilities that, if damaged, would seriously compromise our ability to keep the lights on or reliably serve critical customers. Different types of facilities require different levels of security. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

A risk-based approach enables the industry to prioritize the most important assets, and to continuously improve strategies to meet new threats and a changing bulk electric system.

Prioritizing assets requires determining which assets are critical. While determining what is critical is complicated, numerous models that incorporate both government and industry priorities help industry and its partners focus on a manageable group of assets. Once identified, utilities make the necessary investments to secure these assets and put in place the necessary redundancies to ensure a quick recovery, should they go down.

Infographic: Physical Security of the Electric Grid

Infographic: Protecting the Electric Grid from Physical Threats

Feel free to share this infographic on physical security of the electric grid on your website, with news stories, and on all social media channels. Permissions not required. Attribute American Public Power Association, www.PublicPower.org

A defense-in-depth approach ensures that a threat — such as an attack on a substation — is discouraged by way of deterrents (such as fences and locks), detected as soon as possible (via surveillance and sensors), and responded to quickly to ensure that there’s little or no interruption to utility services.  This response typically comes in the form of an action plan involving coordination with law enforcement and—particularly if an asset is taken offline—swift movement to shift resources or repair equipment to keep the power flowing.

In formulating a defense-in-depth approach, each utility must carefully consider the location, size and criticality of each of its assets.  And it must deploy measures that are cost-appropriate.  For example, a substation — that if taken offline would result in immediate and far-reaching outages — requires deterrence and detection measures that are more sophisticated than those deployed to protect other, less critical assets.

As utilities continue to remain nimble in the face of evolving threats to their infrastructure, it’s important that they find the “just right” sweet spot so they can power their communities safely, reliably, and affordably.

Michael Hyland

Michael Hyland

Senior Vice President, Engineering Services


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