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March 3, 2016

How the Nation’s Electric Utilities Can Speed Recovery from Cyber-Induced Blackouts

The recent cyber attack on Ukraine’s power grid highlights a new challenge for the United States: not only protecting our electric system against such attacks but also ensuring that utilities can rapidly restore power if the grid goes down.

Decades of experience with hurricanes and other natural hazards has helped utilities hone their ability to restore power after Superstorm Sandy and other massive blackouts. However, sophisticated cyber adversaries could strike the grid in entirely different ways, by corrupting the integrity of utility control systems and disrupting other vital grid operations and components.

The challenges for restoring power after such attacks will be starkly different as well. In the case of Sandy, power companies from as far away as California could send power restoration teams to the stricken region, safe in the knowledge that their own utilities would escape the storm. A nationwide cyber attack will strip away that sense of safety and fray the mutual assistance system that lies at the heart of the U.S. power restoration system.

A new study by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, “Superstorm Sandy: Implications for Designing a Post-Cyber Attack Power Restoration System,” examines these novel challenges, and explores how utilities can ramp up the progress they are already making against increasingly severe cyber threats.

The study was conducted by Dr. Paul Stockton. Now a senior fellow at APL and managing director of Sonecon, LLC, Stockton was the assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs during Sandy, and helped lead the Department of Defense’s support for utility power restoration efforts during the superstorm.

“Rather than build a separate restoration system for cyber attacks,” Stockton emphasizes, “electric utilities and their government partners should explore how they can leverage existing mutual assistance agreements and other mechanisms to meet the unprecedented challenges of the cyber era.”

Read the full report.

Media contact: Geoff Brown, 240-228-5618,

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit

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