The North American Electric Reliability Corp. and the U.S. Department of Energy released a report today that identifies a certain class of high-impact, low-frequency risk shown to have the potential to significantly affect the reliability of the North American bulk power system.

The report examines three high-impact, low-frequency risks in detail: coordinated cyber, physical, or blended attacks; pandemic illness; and Geomagnetic Disturbances (GMD) and Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) events. These risks are rare, and in some cases have never occurred. Certain protections and mitigations are already in place to address these risks, and the study released today will help the electric sector, public utility commissions, and the federal government to further prepare for these potential risks.

DOE works with energy sector partners to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States and to promote scientific and technological innovation in support of that mission. Addressing “High-Impact, Low-Frequency” risks, including those referenced in this report, will require continued cooperation between DOE, NERC, and electric sector partners. DOE is committed to continuing and deepening this partnership.

The 120-page report identifies 19 “Proposals for Action” directed to NERC, DOE, the electric industry, and nearly 15 government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) across North America. These “Proposals for Action” are designed to guide ongoing efforts to more fully address these risks, laying a strong foundation for future action. The proposals provide important insights into the issues facing the electric sector and focus on the need for more effective public-private partnership, better information sharing, key research and development activities, and prioritized protection of key nodes on the system.

The report summarizes the outcomes of a key workshop on “High-Impact, Low-Frequency” risks to the North American bulk power system held in November 2009.

“The electric sector has a long history of successfully managing day-to-day risk to the reliability of the bulk power system,” commented Gerry Cauley, president and CEO of NERC. “This report is another step in the sector’s continuing efforts to ask the tough questions about potential risks and the steps that will be needed to continually enhance the sector’s risk posture. We look forward to continuing our work with the governments and regulatory authorities of the United States and Canada along with the owners, operators and users of the bulk power system on these important issues.”

“I applaud the leadership of NERC and DOE for stepping up to the plate to tackle such an important topic of concern, not only to the energy community, but to all critical infrastructure sectors and communities across North America,” commented Robert Stephan, co-chair of the High-Impact, Low-Frequency Steering Committee, former Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection in the National Protection and Programs Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Managing Director at Dutko Worldwide. “This report reflects the seriousness and commitment of the public-private partnership to resolve critical, long-standing issues and contribute to a more secure and resilient North America. The effort is a major step forward that will help shape critical decisions in the future.”

“The report released today represents a much needed effort to better understand and more systematically address high-impact, low-frequency risks across the electric sector,” commented Scott Moore, co-chair of the High-Impact, Low Frequency Steering Committee and Vice President, Transmission at American Electric Power. “The momentum in the industry behind this report has been steadily growing over the past several months. I am confident in the commitment of both the industry and government to continue building on the foundation laid by this report in the months and years ahead.”