Matthew R. Dimmick

This past Saturday, January 24th, a nationwide blackout occurred in Pakistan. The blackout began just before midnight when two transmission pylons, in Naseerabad, Baluchistan province, were destroyed. As reported by the Express Tribune, this failure cascaded through the system, “tripping the 500 kVA national transmission line and forcing a number of power stations offline.” Pakistan’s Minister for Water and Power, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, apologized for the outage and blamed separatist rebels in Baluchistan for the attack.
The outage shut off the lights in the capital city, Islamabad, and impacted over 140 million people, approximately 80% of the country’s population. Power was restored in certain regions within several hours, and according to a spokesman for the national power company, electricity has since been restored in all parts of the country. According to a senior official at the Ministry for Water and Power, separatists had also attacked the grid on two separate occasions earlier in the month, though in these instances, resiliency measures were effective in preventing a broad system failure. The incident is particularly concerning due to Baluchistan’s proximity to the Iranian border. It brings attention to the weaknesses of nuclear armed Pakistan’s critical infrastructure and its vulnerability to small surgical strikes.rachi, Pakistan

Rizwan Tasum/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Pakistan’s lack of investment in infrastructure and physical protections for transmission substations was a contributing factor in the shutdown, and is concerning. Lack of investment is due, in part, to regulated energy prices and limited funds. Though companies have increased their energy generation capacity to help cope with regulated prices, they have not been able to generate sufficient profits for necessary investments in  transmission systems improvements.

 The impacts of the event in Pakistan could have potentially been mitigated by:
  • Appropriate application of security technologies
  • Investments in additional substations
  • Implementation of random anti-terrorism measures (RAM)
  • Response protocols and training for utilities staff and local authorities
Applications of similar measures by US based utilities would have similar benefits in terms of mitigating the capability of potential threat elements from having a measurable impact on downstream delivery.
For many years, cyber security was at the forefront of security spending in the utilities sector throughout the United States. Additional attention was rapidly brought to physical protections of critical infrastructure on April 16th 2013 when a coordinated attack was carried out on a substation in Metcalf, California. This event garnered significant media and regulatory attention in the US over the last year and a half, ultimately resulting in the development of a new standard (NERC CIP 0014-1) dedicated to the protection of critical substations. 
To learn more about NERC CIP 0014-1 and cost effective solutions for addressing the requirements, download our white paper below.
Protection Requirements for Electric Utilities

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