Email to Mark Kelly

From: Thomas Taber <>
Date: March 5, 2022 at 5:51:18 PM MST
To: Senator Mark Kelly <>, Senator Sinema <>
Cc: Thomas Taber <>
Subject: Cyber hacking attacks from China and Russia!

Senator Kelly

On March 3rd, there was an article on FoxNews regarding an interview with Nicolas Chaillan, a global expert on cyber warfare.  Describing his concern about a combined cyber attack by Russia and China on the US, he went on to say, “the cyber defense for critical infrastructure, like power and water, at a kindergartner level. It would be very impactful to U.S. citizens if something were to happen.  This could potentially take down the grid for weeks if not months.”

The article raises a number of concerns and opportunities. First, the scope of a grid shutdown is greater than power and water but covers wastewater, gas, gasoline, and food as well.  

Second, the present status of grid protection might be much higher than the kindergarten level. For example, the Southern California Edison Company has an extensive cyber protection program.  However, I cannot speak for other electric utilities and there is no absolute perfect protection program.

Therefore, the US needs an outstanding civil defense plan to allow people to survive for three weeks without electricity, resulting in no water or food.  The answer is that every person, at a minimum, should have three weeks of bottled water on hand, as well as three weeks of cereal to keep the stomach full and functioning.

Next, the pumping stations for the pumping of water and wastewater should have standby reserve generators with three weeks of gasoline to keep the water and wastewater flowing.

Next, at a minimum, the natural gas pumping stations should have standby reserve generators and three weeks of gasoline to keep the natural gas flowing at least to electric generating facilities.

Next, have standby generators at all hospitals, nursing homes, gasoline stations, markets, police stations, emergency response entities, military, and food production and distribution facilities as well as three weeks of gasoline to run the generators.  There is much more to my civil defense plan, but you get the idea. Inventory all entities with standby generators and require them to have three weeks of gasoline on hand at all times. Then determine what additional facilities will need standby generators like food distribution centers and warming or cooling centers depending on what part of the country you are evaluating.

Next, this brings me to the question of why three weeks?  Let me introduce you to a new term, “Black Start”.  When an electric utility goes down due to a cyber hacking attack or for some other reason as we saw in Texas last year, the utility has to go through the Black Start process where they start with one firm power generator, (natural gas, coal, nuclear, biomass or hydro, not wind or solar), and then power the major substations around that substation. Then the process moves on to the next nearest firm power generating station powers the major substations around the generator station and then interconnects with the substations around the first generators.  This process has to be repeated again and again until all the utility’s electric control area is powered back up. While this is a simplistic description of a complex process, you get the idea that it will take time. I am not sure that three weeks is the exact time frame, but I believe it is in the ballpark. The utilities will know for sure.

The name of the game is to be able to look Putin and Xi in the eyes and be able to say, “We’re ready, are you?  With the Russian attack on Ukraine, we have returned to the Cold War and it will only get worse. We need to be energy-independent and to be able to withstand a cyber attack on the electric grid.

The good news is that if we all start with three weeks of bottled water and some Cheerios or Wheaties, then we are on the road to at least being minimally prepared. It is more complex, but all we need is a plan that we can implement. “Keep calm and carry on”, as the British poster from WW II reads. If you want more information, read Ted Koppel’s book, Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath. Know one thing, Putin will NOT have his way with us!

Thomas Taber, JD, BSIE, 44 years in the electric utility industry.