The Wisconsin National Guard organized a full-scale training drill which simulated a massive power grid threat for over 1,000 utility workers and first responders. The running operation, generally called “Dark Sky,” has been in the works for two years, and took place from May 15-17. Participating counties included Brown, Calumet, Dane, Fond du Lac, Milwaukee, Outagamie, and Winnebago.
Captain Joe Trovato, a spokesman from the Wisconsin National Guard, said the workout session was supposed to simulate a “physical or cyber” threat within a large geographic area of the state. Trovato noted that private utilities participated in conjunction with the Red Cross. Emergency responders from local fire and law enforcement departments. Trovato asserted that during the joint effort, they considered cyber threats to be a primary issue.
Power Grid Threat Addressed By “Dark Sky”
“When we entered into that relationship with our utility companies, they identified (cyber threats) as an area of interest,” Trovato noted. He also added that he was not made mindful of any specific cyber threats within the state. Trovato said the idea for Dark Sky would be for preparation in the case of an unforeseen power grid threat hindering electricity and natural gas delivery for an extended time. “The state and the National Guard have been fairly heavily involved within the last three years (on the issue) as we’ve headed up cyber teams.” Trovato said the exercise is typically a dry run, continuing that “this is a real world opportunity to train on these elements.”
Guard members went door to door in Omro, Wisconsin to conduct welfare checks as people may face hurdles and challenges should a big-time, long-term power grid threat occur. The Guard chose Omro, a town of approximately 3,000 west of Oshkosh because it was of a “manageable size,” Trovato said.
Dana Racine, the town’s community development coordinator, helped create Omro’s response initiative. “We have had ongoing discussions on the cyber end of it, or ‘the grid’ if you will,” Racine said. “If there was a power outage how would we respond?” Racine said that officials would not be obtaining private information through the Guard’s welfare checks. Instead, residents might even be able to acquire a free smoke detector if needed. Getting ready for a grid hack throughout the entire power grid is different than managing an ordinary natural disaster, which often affects electric power as well.
Alissa Braatz works as a spokeswoman for American Transmission Company, which owns and maintains high-powered transmission lines in Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and certain sections of Illinois. “We don’t necessarily know the duration or impact of one versus the other,” Braatz said. However, she added that Dark Sky would help move the public, private and volunteer organizations into agreement during an actual catastrophe or cyber assault. “No matter what the incident may actually be, the objective is to carry out our incident response plan and ultimately work together with those other entities to help ensure the power stays on,” she declared.
Hackers Know The Grid Is Vulnerable
Jerad Preston, who is the Brown County Director of Emergency Management, stated that grid hacking and other types of cyber warfare are “always something in the back of your mind.” He made reference to an event which occurred in Dallas, Texas in 2017 where hackers activated the city’s emergency sirens late in the evening. “It’s getting more and more real and to the forefront, and we are starting to plan and prepare for this,” Preston explained. “That’s what this exercise is about. How do we respond to a cyber threat like this?”
Gas generators and solar generators can play a valuable role in a long term outage.