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Nebraska electric utilities will monitor upcoming power grid test

Nebraska electric utilities will monitor upcoming power grid test

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Nebraska's three largest electric utilities will monitor an emergency drill designed to test the vulnerability of the North American power grid against possible terrorism, including cyber attacks.

More than 150 companies and organizations in the United States, Canada and Mexico have signed up for GridEx II, a biennial international grid security exercise designed to test how governments react to such attacks.

This year's exercise, set for Nov. 13-14, will vastly expand on the lessons learned from the first exercise held in 2011.

Despite assurances from the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which is in charge of the drill, there are concerns that some parts of the nation's power grid could go dark.

Spokespeople for the Nebraska Public Power District, Omaha Public Power District and Lincoln Electric System say that won't happen.

"This is more of a tabletop exercise. We're not going to do anything that will affect the live power system," said Laurie Gregg, manager of system operations for LES.

Mark Becker, spokesman for NPPD, said the utility has had some calls about the exercise. One city official wanted to know if the grid will go down and an industrial customer asked if they should go out and buy some portable generators. 

"Basically, NPPD people will be monitoring. There will be no impact on the grid," Becker said.

OPPD spokesman Mike Jones said various departments will be listening to an emergency scenario and discuss how the utility would react to that scenario. They also will discuss policies and procedures regarding those actions.

The electric grid, which delivers power to homes, businesses and industry, is viewed as being vulnerable to terrorism in the form of cyberattacks. Utilities have been working for years to tighten security and improve the system.

"It's important for us to make sure nobody is hacking into the system," Becker said.

Gregg said LES holds emergency drills at least 10 times a year to ensure that its local network, which serves Lancaster County and outlying areas, is secure.

"I feel like we are doing the best we can to make sure it's safe," said Gregg, referring to the nation's power grid. "Hopefully, it is better than it was years ago."

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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