Cutting the Cord to Test Energy Resilience

By Hon. Alex Beehler and Mr. J.E. Jack Surash, P.E., Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy and Environment)April 13, 2020

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Testing energy resilience by cutting commercial power to the entire or segments of U.S. Army installations is an undeniable means of bringing to light the impact an unexpected power outage can have on that installation’s ability to achieve their mission.

What Is Energy Resilience

Energy resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions - and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from power disruptions. Energy security is having assured access to reliable supplies of energy and the ability to protect and deliver sufficient energy to meet mission-essential requirements.

Importance to Installations

Within the installation portfolio, the focus is preparing for war. Current multi-domain operations require Army installations to have secure and reliable access to energy and water to achieve mission objectives. The Army installation objectives of maintaining world class training facilities, the ability to project power or surge the industrial base, and command and control are not achievable without secure and resilient access to energy and water. However, with rare exception, installations rely on commercial utilities outside the gate for energy and water.

Today, there exist a number of energy security vulnerabilities, both natural and man-made, associated with interdependent electric power grids, natural gas pipelines, and water resources and systems, which often jeopardize installation security and mission capabilities. The increased frequency and magnitude of severe storms and grid outages, as well as man-made threats, force Army installations to confront a greater risk of extended power and water disruptions.

Cutting the Power

With the understanding that military missions are at risk from external energy and water supply disruptions, the Department of Defense (DoD) requires that DoD components conduct full-scale and routine testing of emergency and standby energy generation systems, infrastructure, equipment, and fuel that support their critical energy requirements. A full-scale test includes operating all associated emergency and standby energy generation systems, infrastructure, equipment, and fuel at full operational loads while completely separated from the primary source of power. Routine tests include operating all associated emergency energy generation systems, infrastructure, equipment, and fuel at full operational loads while still coupled with the primary source of power.

In collaboration with the Department of Defense, the Army began testing installation energy resilience through planned Energy Resilience Readiness Exercises (ERRE) by purposely shutting off the power. These exercises reveal an installations’ ability to maintain operational capabilities during an extended utility outage. The Army has not consistently defined critical loads; critical building loads and communications systems are not always configured to backup generation; and backup generators fail due to lack of maintenance or insufficient loading.

Thus far, the Army has tested installation energy resilience by shutting off electric power to: Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Greely, Alaska; Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

At Fort Knox, power was intentionally cut off the morning of October 24, 2018. Since 2009, the local utility and garrison commander have prioritized increasing the installation’s energy resilience following an ice storm that left the installation without power for 10 days. During the exercise, Fort Knox continued to operate when its microgrid automatically started a series of diesel and natural gas-powered generators to fuel the installation.  One year later, on October 23, 2019, in another planned test, they shut off power to all six substations. After successfully running off of generators for two hours, officials switched back to commercial power. Less than a month after this test, the Installation encountered two actual power outages. At 4 a.m. November 18, and again at 3 p.m. on November 19, circuits failed, creating a power outage at in the northeast section of post, mainly where training ranges are located. The Energy Resilience system worked as designed.

At Fort Bragg, the commercial electric supply was cut off in April 2019 to test the performance of the infrastructure, efficiency of emergency generators, and impact on residents to the unannounced power outage. Installation officials said the exercise was exactly what they needed to do to identify capability gaps and work to improve their security and deployment posture. The exercise was not announced so that it would replicate “real-world” reactions. One of the things Fort Bragg needed to gauge was - do they have the infrastructure and the services in place to handle critical missions, if there is a situation where all of a sudden they have a complete loss of power across the installation. Unrealized, but needed resources were identified through the exercise and now can be acquired so they can correct problems and remain mission capable.

Such exercises not only highlight gaps, but shape conversations among energy managers, garrison commanders, and Army leadership. Some installations experienced challenges when critical systems either failed to start or failed within an hour of operation. Although installations found room for improvement, these exercises are instrumental for future energy resilience planning by providing scenario-based evidence to determine deficiencies.

The Threats Are Real

Natural Threats

Widespread disruptions of utility systems have already had a direct impact on many Army installations.

An ice storm took down power distribution lines in Kentucky and left Fort Knox without power for 10 days in 2009.

Redstone Arsenal lost commercial power for eight days in 2011 when a tornado damaged the high voltage power lines supplying the installation.

In 2012, the derecho, or straight-line wind storms in June, caused power outages lasting 7-10 days across 11 states.  In October, disruptions due to Super Storm Sandy left Long Island residents without power for two weeks.

In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew struck the Atlantic East Coast and left millions of people without power for seven days from Florida to North Carolina. In 2017, three major hurricanes caused multiple outages lasting 7 to 12 days within the continental U.S. In Puerto Rico, less than 65 percent of the island’s power grid and 85 percent of the island’s water supply infrastructure were operable three months after Hurricane Maria’s landfall.

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season saw fifteen named storms, including two major hurricanes, adversely affecting the eastern United States and causing infrastructure disruptions of the military. Hurricane Florence caused flooding and took down power lines in North and South Carolina. Hurricane Michael was the strongest hurricane on record to strike the Florida panhandle. It disrupted power and water service and damaged almost every structure on Tyndall Air Force Base,  raising concerns about timeline and cost to restore the base.

Army installations are not immune to energy and water grid vulnerabilities. This year, installations reported over 1,100 utility outage events comprising 22,082 hours, and increase of nearly 5 percent from hours reported in fiscal year 2018. Over 90 percent of the offline hours occurred during outages lasting eight hours or more. Equipment failure and acts of nature account for the majority of outages.


Cyberattacks are becoming an increasingly greater concern.

In December 2015, a multi-target cyberattack was executed on three electric grid control centers in eastern Ukraine. The attack began by shutting down power to the control center to prevent utility employees from effectively handling the outage. With response capability compromised, the cyberattack took control of the electric-system substations and opened breakers to shut down power to a larger group of customers. U.S. electric companies are at risk of similar directed attacks.

In April 2018, five U.S. natural gas pipeline operators reported hackers shut down their electronic communications systems. While these cyberattacks did not disrupt supply, they highlight the ongoing vulnerability of U.S. natural gas systems.

The January 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment from the Director of National Intelligence notes that both Russia and China have the ability to launch cyberattacks that cause disruptive effects on critical infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines or electrical distribution networks. On January 10, 2019, a Wall Street Journal article reported cyberattacks focused on Jefferson County, New York and Frederick, Maryland, utility providers serving Fort Drum and Fort Detrick respectively.

In March 2019, the Department of Energy confirmed a cyber-disruption to the U.S. grid, which involved a “denial of service condition” at a Western utility. They said a cyber-event interfered with operations but stopped short of causing blackout or any customer outages.

Physical Sabotage

In addition to cyberattacks, the risk of physical sabotage is ever present. In April 2013, a sniper fired on a Pacific Gas and Electric substation in California. This physical attack damaged seventeen transformers, requiring over $15 million worth of repairs and created localized outages. Much of the U.S. utility infrastructure, across sectors, does not have robust physical security measures in place.

Now and the future

The U.S. and our military installations, as noted in the National Defense Strategy, are targets for terrorists and malicious cyber activity aimed at our infrastructure. Army installations are served by public electricity, natural gas, and water utility systems that are at risk of disruption from bad actors.

Not only will the Army continue to conduct ERREs to find gaps in installations’ energy security, but over the next three years most installations will complete Installation Energy and Water Plans (IEWPs). These plans, which are working documents to be updated as needed, will outline critical mission requirements, assess energy and water baseline conditions, and develop a prioritized approach for both projects and operations-and-maintenance activities that improve energy and water resilience. Priority IEWPs for installations identified by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Mission Assurance were scheduled to be complete in 2019, all Army Power Projection and Mobilization Force Generation Installations by September 2020, and all other installations by September 2021.

Ensuring installation energy and water resilience is a vital component to maintaining critical enablers. The Army must always be prepared for war by providing world-class training facilities, maintaining combat equipment, and ensuring the ability to command and control, through our network and systems backbone.

Chief of Staff for the Army, Gen. James McConville said, “We cannot be an Industrial Age Army in the Information Age. We must transform all linear industrial age processes to be more effective, protect our resources, and make better decisions. We must be the Army of tomorrow, today.”

In outlining our priorities for 2020 - 2021, it should be clear that we want the secretariat’s efforts in enhancing energy resilience at Army installations to continue, accelerate and grow. We want to emphasize how important energy and water resilience is to the Army today.

Army installations require assured access to energy and water sources to accomplish critical missions. Vulnerabilities in the interdependent electric power grids, natural gas pipelines, and potable water resources supporting Army installations jeopardize Army readiness.

Planning, exercises and system improvements will minimize the likelihood of utility outages as well as minimize their impact when they occur. Regardless of cause, additional emphasis is needed to reduce energy and water vulnerabilities to facilities and infrastructure supporting critical missions.

Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. James C. McConville, in a message to the Army Team said, “We must be the Army of tomorrow, today. The changing operational environment is altering installation energy requirements and we must modernize our infrastructure and equipment."