If millions of people in South Carolina lost power in a cyber attack, how would state emergency officials respond?
That was the scenario practiced Wednesday at the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. Hundreds of people from state, county and federal agencies, utilities, hospitals, and relief agencies participated in the full-scale statewide exercise. About 150 were at the Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia.
“We’re taking a look to see how we would respond to that and how we would react to, very importantly, validate our existing plans to see what we need to change and what kind of lessons we can learn in the event of this scenario,” SCEMD Director Kim Stenson said. “We train and we plan and we exercise on a regular basis.”
Although SCEMD practices disaster drills every year, this is the first time it’s addressed a cyber attack involving a massive power outage. To increase the challenge, a snowstorm in the Upstate was added to the extreme conditions.
“Ninety percent of what you do in every disaster is going to be the same,” Stenson said. “In this particular case, similar to a hurricane, we have power restoration issues. We’re going to have sheltering issues, potentially law enforcement requests, requests for food and water.”
South Carolina is one of two states participating in the exercise Wednesday, part of a national GridEx IV project.
“This is a new effort,” Stenson said. “Cyber is in the news all the time about different issues and we want to make sure we’re prepared here in South Carolina.”
Stenson said emergency officials are concerned with consequence management.
“We’re the only ones that pick up the pieces when things break and that’s what we have to do,” he said. “Same as we do during a hurricane, we’d have to be concerned with sheltering people, rescuing people, feeding people.”
Although we can’t predict when most disasters will occur, Stenson said we can prepare to some extent: Always have three days of food and supplies, a full tank of gasoline in your car, keep your medications and prescriptions up to date and if you have pets, a plan for them. The SCEMD has more information on disaster preparations on its website. Click here for a link.