A report released last week by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) identifies cyber attacks, pandemics, and electromagnetic disturbances as “high-impact, low-frequency” (HILF) risks that could significantly affect the reliability of the North American bulk power system.

The report (PDF) examines the 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,” NERC said in a statement. “Certain protections and mitigations are already in place to address these risks, and the study released [on June 3] will help the electric sector, public utility commissions, and the federal government to further prepare for these potential risks.”

The 120-page report identifies 19 “Proposals for Action” directed to NERC, DOE, the electric industry, and nearly 15 government agencies and nongovernmental organizations  across North America.

Proposals include improved cooperation between the DOE, Department of Homeland Security, and authorities in Canada with the power industry. They also call for NERC’s technical committees to formalize initial efforts to evaluate the efficacy of current bulk power system planning and operating practices with respect to protecting the system from coordinated attack threats.

The grid endures “hundreds of thousands of probes” on a daily basis and there has been “suspicious activity around control systems,” NERC President and CEO Gerry Cualey said in a conference call to unveil the report, according to NetworkWorld.

To better deal with pandemics—which the report views as a workforce issue, because if many people fell sick, few would be available to operate power plants—the proposals call for entities to review business continuity plans to incorporate lessons from the H1N1 pandemic. GMD threats could be better mitigated if an industry task force were established to evaluate and prioritize the threat, the report said.

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.

Sources: NERC, NetworkWorld, POWERnews