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Utilities Should Prioritize Proactive Problem Solving

By Jared Patton | April 20, 2021

 

If you’re a utility decision-maker who is on the fence about making big capital investments into your operations and maintenance, the past year has provided plenty of examples as to why you should. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and that mantra is doubly true for major infrastructure. From record-breaking storms to a slate of cyber attacks, some with potentially deadly consequences, on top of a global pandemic, it should be easy to see why utilities should be in some cases, overly prepared to function through the increasingly unpredictable landscape they now find themselves in. When the success and livelihood of entire cities and communities depends on the routine execution of your duties, you simply can’t afford to drop the ball. The potential for catastrophe will always be present for utility companies. This means that proactive, preventative measures are invaluable and that investments in efficiency, reliability, training and security will almost always pay for themselves if given enough time.

 

This past February, in 2021, Winter Storm Uri blanketed large swaths of North America in ice and snow and as a result, the state of Texas experienced some of its lowest temperatures in decades, triggering a skyrocketing demand for electricity. Icy conditions and high demand overwhelmed the state’s electricity infrastructure, causing massive power outages. These events underscored how unprepared ERCOT, the nonprofit that manages the grid, was for this storm, even with mounting evidence that this storm and more like it were on the horizon. Though it’s impossible to completely stop the destructive potential of inclement weather, had ERCOT and Texas lawmakers prepared themselves for what was to come, the destruction and loss of life caused by this storm could have been mitigated.

 

During the same period of time in Oldsmar, Florida, hackers successfully infiltrated the systems of the local water treatment plant and attempted to poison the entire water supply for the city of 15,000. Thankfully, a supervisor at the plant was able to catch the hackers in the act and stop the process before the damage became irreversible. Unfortunately, incidents like this are becoming more common due to local government-related computer systems frequently being underfunded. As more industries become digitally connected, improperly secured networks become more attractive targets to hostile states and criminals.

 

Tarah Wheeler, a Harvard Cybersecurity Fellow, says communities should take every precaution possible when using remote access technology on something as critical as a water supply.

 

“The systems administrators in charge of major civilian infrastructure like a water treatment facility should be securing that plant-like they’re securing the water in their own kitchens,” Wheeler told the Associated Press via email. “Sometimes when people set up local networks, they don’t understand the danger of an improperly configured and secured series of internet-connected devices.”

 

 

In this instance, it was lax cybersecurity that threatened innocent lives, but for utility managers, the lesson is the same. To be responsible for major infrastructure is to be simultaneously vulnerable to destructive acts of nature, freak coincidences, and malicious actors. The most effective way to stave off these threats to civil society is to proactively plan for and mitigate these problems before they occur. That means investments in weatherization, redundancies, cybersecurity, and operational support. Your utility is the backbone of your community, and it should be as well defended as your actual spine.

 

Not sure if your utility is ready for the challenges ahead? Our cybersecurity and operations solutions specialists can help you identify problems before they occur and help you proactively protect yourself and your community. Reach out to us today to secure a safer tomorrow.