GridEx puts energy industry to the test

More than 80 Great River Energy employees were engaged in a crisis management exercise organized by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) in November.

The two-day exercise, named GridEx VI, was designed to enhance the coordination of cyber and physical security resources and practices within the industry, as well as communication with government partners and other stakeholders. The biennial exercise gives participants the opportunity to self-assess their emergency response and recovery plans through a simulated exercise that takes place across North America.

Great River Energy’s Jackie Bentz, manager of generation services, and Therese LaCanne, manager of communications and marketing, were the crisis commanders who led the response for the cooperative.

And there was plenty to contend with. Players were subject to simulated phishing and ransomware attacks, protesters, unplanned outages, a train derailment and damage to power line structures — all within the course of two days. Some players also received scenario-setting “injects” the week prior to set the stage.

Ron Schmitz, director of information services at Great River Energy, said the exercise went well. Schmitz led the group that planned the simulated challenges dealt to the crisis management team.

“We saw what we hoped to see,” Schmitz said. “Ultimately, the players did an excellent job of communicating with each other and working their crisis response plans.”

Mike McFarland, director of enterprise risk management at Great River Energy, applauded the excellent performance, and said the cooperative will use lessons learned from the exercise.

“We put so much thought and planning into our crisis management plan and this is an opportunity for us to test it,” McFarland said. “We will inevitably learn from the exercise and take our planning to the next level, both from our experiences during the drill and the experiences of other utilities. It was time well spent.”