NERC task force recommends actions to protect against, recover from high-impact events

A NERC technical report recommended actions the industry should take to reduce the likelihood and effects of so-called “high-impact, low-frequency” (HILF) events, including considering alternate means to dispatch generation if normal automated systems are unavailable.

HILF events occur infrequently but have the potential to have a substantial impact on the reliability of the North American bulk power system (BPS), according to NERC.

In its report, NERC’s Severe Impact Resilience Task Force (SIRTF) considered three scenarios as the initiating events: a coordinated physical attack, a coordinated cyber attack, and a geomagnetic disturbance. While it provided recommendations, the report also noted that the measures “may be applicable to any severe impact scenario.”

Noting that “resilience has come to be valued as much as protection,” the 140-page report offered 33 key recommendations to make the grid more resilient, and urged entities to consider them from a strategic, as well as a leadership, perspective. The report said it considered all aspects of resilience: robustness, resourcefulness, rapid recovery, and adaptability.

The report intended to reach beyond the emergency response capabilities power system entities typically have in place. To emphasize this, the SIRTF developed and focused on two concepts: the event itself, and what it termed a “new normal.”

The “severe event” was defined as an emergency situation so catastrophic that complete restoration of electric service was not possible. The reduced state of reliability and supply for the months – or possibly years – following the event was referred to as the “new normal.”

In the operations area, the report made seven recommendations, including considering alternate means to dispatch generation if normal automated systems are unavailable. The report also recommended enhancing regular restoration drills and exercises to train staff on communication protocols and independent control actions in the event of loss of or degraded telecommunications.

Three recommendations addressed maintaining situational awareness of the BPS in the wake of a major event, including developing ways to monitor the system in the absence of reliable automated systems.

The report also made recommendations in other areas including communications; short- and long-term system planning; protection and control; interdependencies with other critical infrastructures; coordination with government; taking care of people; logistics and self-sustained operations; preventing and responding to physical attacks; and emergency financing.

The report encouraged power system entities to enhance existing restoration drills and exercises to incorporate severe event scenarios that include interdependencies with other critical infrastructures such as telecommunications.

It also emphasized that entities should recognize that plans and operating practices will need to be continually assessed and adjusted as necessary over an extended period that could last months or years following a severe event – the period of “new normal.”

Finally, the SIRTF report said entities should involve neighboring jurisdictions and government agencies by sharing their plans and building a better understanding of how those plans will be coordinated and implemented.