Experts say utilities need to do much more

Published 12 October 2006

Electricity and gas plants may be the first to suffer the consequences of disrupted service; alongside barriers and surveillance systems, companies should make sure to work with local authorities to develop emergency response plans

Utilities remain extremely vulnerable to terrorism, experts say, and many are not doing enough to protect themselves. Indeed, the risk is much greater for utilities not only because they offer terrorists the opportunity to wreak havoc among the populace, but because the utilities themselves are neccesary tools of any disaster relief effort. The irony of an electrical plant receiving inadequate disaster relief due to its own negligence is almost too obvious to mention. “We try to get the public works and utilities sectors up to speed on potential threats and potential target sites,” says Vince Slominski, an instructor with the Texas Engineering Extension Service and National Emergency Response and Rescue Center. “We want to get them back in operations and to get the community back to a state of normalcy.”

The North America Electric Reliability Council offers a number of wise suggestions, all of which begin with each utility conducting a vulnerability assessment. Money does not grow on trees, and “each company should prioritize its facilities and assets as well as characterize potential risks based on historical accounts.” Some, such as building up a surplus of replacement transformers, are easy to implement; others, including a comprehensive video surveillance system and a standardized ‘smart card’ identification system, require more planning and expense. Utilities should also consider developing an emergency response plan that accounts for everything from communication with local officials to first aid for injured employees.

-read more in Ken Silverstein’s Energy Central discussion ; and see Energy Central’s “Dealing with Terrorism” document