Opinion: Trump secures power systems to guard Michigan's critical infrastructure

Dan Brouillette

Large swaths of central Michigan are recovering from the catastrophic failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams. We have seen forced evacuations, homes and businesses destroyed and countless millions of dollars in damages. 

The heavy rain that caused this overwhelming force of nature is being called a “500-year event.” Natural disasters cannot be prevented, but we can be prepared. And even then, we can never be fully ready for the most catastrophic events like those that unfolded in the Tittabawassee River watershed area. 

Alarmingly, dams can also be targets of intentional cyberattacks because they are part of our nation’s critical infrastructure. Dams that produce energy feed into the Bulk Power System, which includes the power substations, generators, transformers and industrial control systems necessary for operating our nation’s electric transmission network.

And while a cyberattack on one dam would likely not unleash the kind of fury Michigan residents experienced in May, imagine the damage that could be caused by a complex, coordinated cyber-attack targeting multiple Bulk-Power System (BPS) components. An attack of this kind could cause much more damage and more long-term disruptions to daily life than the recent flooding, as hard as that may be to believe. 

Those are just the immediate effects. If the power took several days or weeks to be restored, we could start to see water contamination and major transportation, communications and logistics shutdowns.  

If this situation were to play out simultaneously in multiple regions of the country, it could cause the kind of disruptions we usually only see in movies.    

Indeed, just such a threat is outlined in the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment report issued by the United States intelligence community. The report lists China, Russia and Iran as having the ability to execute cyberattacks against America’s critical infrastructure, including the BPS. We must be ever vigilant, and we must secure our BPS from malicious attacks. 

On May 1, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order that will do just that. The order authorizes my team at the Department of Energy to work with other federal departments and with private industry, as appropriate, to secure America’s BPS by eliminating vulnerabilities within the existing system and developing policies to keep the system safe for years to come. 

The main idea here is simple: These critical bulk power systems require secure supply chains, whether the products originate from American companies or allies and trusted partners. Absent a secure supply chain, foreign adversaries could intentionally provide faulty equipment and parts or, more likely, use their knowledge of cyber-system and electromagnetic vulnerabilities within our critical infrastructure to carry out a targeted attack. 

Next, the order calls for the Department of Energy to establish criteria for recognizing specific equipment and vendors as pre-qualified to provide parts used in critical systems. This will help ensure a fair bidding process and provide increased business opportunities, incentivizing American manufacturers to produce BPS parts and equipment. 

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion in the Cabinet Room at the White House, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Washington.

Finally, through the executive order, Trump created a task force, which I will lead, to review and develop Federal energy infrastructure procurement policies. This task force will ensure that the foundation of these policies is our national security.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, we live in an uncertain world. Things will happen that are beyond our control, and we accept that. But we must take necessary steps to protect against threats we know are out there. Trump rightly recognized those threats and acted. The Bulk Power System executive order is a necessary step that will keep Michigan residents, and all Americans, safe.

Dan Brouillette is the United States secretary of energy.