March 4, 2022

Cyber Attack or Power Grid Failure. Is Your Agency Prepared?



My nearly six years as chief of police in Aurora has caused my brain to rewire itself. I am now conditioned to immediately consider the ramifications for cities and public safety by extrapolating the worst possible scenario. I promise I’m still fun at parties and stifle these dark thoughts much of the time.

I am also a product of the Naval Postgraduate School, where I attained a Homeland Security and Defense degree. My classmates and I were immersed in case studies on infrastructure failures during the program. We were forced (in a good way) to imagine the methods that an evil actor could threaten our homeland and the defense we would take in our communities.

Like all of you, the war in Ukraine occupies much of my brain space. We are all responsible for thinking outside of our corners of the world because of our collective humanity. What harms one harms all. However, I feel helpless regarding my personal responsibility in this global crisis. I can change my Twitter photo to the Ukrainian flag in solidarity. Still, I’m pretty sure that’s not helping President Zelenskyy and the citizens who are fighting for democracy.

But I can use this moment in time to do what comes naturally to me: catastrophize.

I invite you inside my head for a moment to ponder what it would look like if the same scenario were overlayed in your city. War is hell, and there are no rules in wartime. Police officers will not be answering 911 calls because we will all be fighting for our survival. So let’s explore a scenario that started this spiral of contemplation.

Your city goes dark. Just like that, no electricity, no internet Wi-Fi, and no cellular signal. Pitch dark. You cannot communicate with anyone, sitting in darkness, and you are helpless. The connected world as you know it ceases to exist.

You can purchase generators, candles, and a surplus of staples like food and alcohol (alcohol sales went way up in the pandemic). If you plan for the worst, you will likely survive. But you will not be solving the daily wordle or posting TikTok’s. Jokes aside, imagine the inability to communicate with your loved ones. We take for granted that we can text or call our family from our trusted devices. If that capability were to cease, have you considered how you will connect with your tribe? Discuss this with your family and devise a plan that includes a reunification spot at a specific time after comms are severed.

The same goes for the organization for which you are responsible. How would you manage a cyber attack or power grid failure that halts your deliverables?

City leaders, police chiefs, fire chiefs, emergency managers, how will your city function if this unthinkable were to occur? I can speak from the police perspective that losing connectivity would be devastating. Radio communication would cease. As we all know, this happens from time to time, and we call IT and the experts who pinpoint the problem and get it up and running. Meanwhile, our officers communicate with dispatch and one another via cell phone. It’s not ideal, but it’s a workaround, and services are still delivered. But with no cell phones, understand there is no communication. No one can call 911.

Medical emergencies will not stop because of disruption. Violence in homes or on the streets will not be reported because there is no way to call for help.

People will die.

This is a call to action. It’s time to sit down and consider the ramifications of the worst-case scenario and devise contingencies for your organization. Employ your greatest minds and challenge their imaginations to construct doom’s day scenarios. Then put plans into place. The best outcome is that these never occur, but what a shame to find yourselves unprepared if they do.

Prepare now before the defecation hits the oscillation.

You play like you practice.

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