By Sue Kelly, Tom Kuhn, and Jim Matheson
June 20, 2017 at 5:00 am ET
More and more, we are reading about new cybersecurity threats and hearing commentary about how critical infrastructure is in the crosshairs of adversaries around the world. In May, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order directing the federal government to undertake a security review to identify opportunities for the private sector and government to work more closely together to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, including the energy grid, against cyberattacks.
As leaders of three major organizations representing our nation’s electric companies, we are ready to work with the administration on the actions included in this executive order. We understand that reliable and affordable electricity is essential to our nation’s security, economy, and way of life. And, we take our responsibility to maintain that reliability seriously.
Industry and federal government cooperation is already a pillar of our security strategy. This strategy is based on existing mandatory and enforceable reliability regulations for cyber and physical security; close coordination among industry and with government partners at all levels; and resilience efforts that include preparations to respond to, and recover from, incidents that may impact grid operations.
To address national-level threats to critical infrastructure, the industry leverages its robust partnership with the federal government through the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council). The executive-led ESCC coordinates with senior officials from across the federal government, including the White House; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; the Departments of Energy, Homeland Security, and Defense; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and the FBI to improve security, improve situational awareness, deploy resources, and enhance preparedness.
Coordinating directly with the government allows the industry to take a more comprehensive approach to identifying, assessing, and mitigating threats and suspicious activity. In fact, the ESCC already has been a catalyst for major initiatives strengthening the industry’s security posture, and, by extension, the nation. ESCC leadership recently met with newly appointed federal officials, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who as a former governor understands the value of preparedness and public-private partnerships.
Our commitment to a secure energy grid includes further developing the suite of tools and technologies that enable near real-time sharing of cyberthreat data among industry and government stakeholders. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015, which provided the framework for sharing timely cyberthreat information, boosted this effort.
Our industry has developed and tested plans to prepare, respond, and recover should energy grid operations be impacted. After reviewing current resources, industry developed the Cyber Mutual Assistance program, which brings together industry cybersecurity experts who can be deployed in the event of a regional or national cyber incident. Since November 2015, the industry has conducted five national-level exercises, including the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s GridEx III, which brought together more than 360 organizations and 4,400 participants from industry, state and federal agencies, and our partners in Canada and Mexico.
The industry is also working closely with the Electric Power Research Institute, NERC, and the government, including the national labs, to enhance resiliency and mitigate threats from geomagnetic disturbances and electromagnetic pulses. Finally, given the profound interdependencies, the ESCC is leading an effort with the communications and financial services sectors to partner more effectively on threats to critical infrastructure.
In the face of evolving threats, our industry will continue to invest in grid security, improve information sharing, develop mutual assistance networks, and strengthen government and cross-sector partnerships. We will remain vigilant, and work together to address emerging challenges to our critical infrastructure.
Sue Kelly is president and CEO of the American Public Power Association. Tom Kuhn is president of the Edison Electric Institute. Jim Matheson is CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
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