The Grid Optimization Blog
Cyber attack drill

Terrorism, Utility Communications, and the ‘Fog of War’

cyber attack drill warningNews of the recent continental-scale war game to determine how prepared the U.S. is for a massive attack on the grid included a statement about “fog of war” confusion experienced by the participants.  This brought to mind an experience of mine.  A few years ago I had just finished a talk on the potential for miscommunication among utility system operators and line workers – due to (a) regional/corporate variations in meanings for the same terminology and (b) different terminology for the same procedures/mishaps, etc. – when a member of the audience approached me and said, “I owe you an apology.”  It seems a year earlier he had heard me talk on the same subject and left unconvinced there was any problem.  On the plane home, however, he met another utility guy he had seen at the conference and, as you might expect, they proceeded to talk shop.  “Well,” he said, “it didn’t take long before I realized I didn’t understand a damned thing he was saying.  So, I said to myself, if I see Harrison again, I’m going to offer him an apology.”

He did, and I accepted, but clearly, the danger of confusion from verbal misunderstanding should not be ignored.   In the airline industry, for instance, the FAA mandates that pilots and air traffic controllers use words from a 600-page lexicon, which means that all pilots and controllers all over the country – and the world – are on the same page, literally.  But they go even further to reduce the chance of misunderstanding, mandating that pilots and controllers use standard phraseology.  And the results speak for themselves.  Indeed, an airline with a 99.99% success rate would have several crashes a day!

This lesson was not ignored in Australia.  While admittedly much smaller than the U.S., that nation has mandated that all utilities use the same lexicon to avoid just this type of confusion and danger.

By contrast many utilities have no formal definition of terms used daily by lineman and operators.  Add to this the chance of error related to complex messaging, dysfluency, i.e., pauses, stammers, utterances that add no meaning to the message, and misarticulation, improperly spoken words and the inability to articulate correctly, and you start to see a potential for this to thicken the “fog of war” during a terrorist attack on the grid.

I’d like to know if readers of this blog have experienced communications issues related to differences in terminology, jargon, etc.  If this problem exists, it might be good to resolve it before the next war game … or indeed the next war.

TAGS: Smart Grid
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