Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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GridEx II

A quick guest blog post by Devin Hayes Ellis:

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Garbage-in-garbage-out? You decide:

GridEx IIFor those who are not familiar with it, GridEx is a simulation exercise dealing with massive failure of the nation’s power grid due to cyber attack. The show is organized by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), and involves dozens of utilities and government entities as either participants or observers. In short, it’s a pretty big deal. They did the first one in 2011, and the current one (GridEx II) ran this week. The stated goal is:

…to validate the readiness of the Electricity Sub-sector to respond to a cyber incident, strengthen utilities’ crisis response functions, and provide input for internal security program improvements.

Good stuff. Then I heard a story about the exercise on the radio program Marketplace which made me pause – we’ll come to it in a moment. As designers, we are all familiar with the fundamental tradeoff between realism and manageability in creating any simulation or wargame, especially a really big one. But that’s why we ask foundational questions like: what is the thing you actually want to learn? The capability you actually want to test? Well it seems to me the GridEx guys know the answer to that question – but did it inform their simulation design? Here’s the quote from Marketplace :

But there is one element of a real, nationwide, long-term blackout that Grid Ex will not address: Telecommunications. In the world of the game, the internet and the phone system will keep working. “It’s very difficult to run an exercise without phone lines and email, I’ll be honest with you,” Harrell says. “That may be something we look at for next time.”

Really? A nationwide power grid failure that did not impact email or telecommunications? I hope when the after-action report highlights response times and cooperation they folks at NERC are responsible enough to brief the audiences on that REALLY important caveat…  Do I have the wrong end of the stick on this?


Devin Hayes Ellis



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