The National Academy of Engineering identifies electrification as the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century, and perhaps of all human history. The NAE also lists water supply and distribution as the 4th greatest such achievement behind only the automobile and airplane. Perhaps just as impressive to these feats is the substantial effort and continuous innovation that is required to maintain these systems that are the very lifeblood of modern civilization.
It was significant enough to design and build these energy and water systems, but just think of the complexities of maintaining these systems which are continuously being changed, updated and even tampered with. And with the ever increasing digitization of these modern marvels, comes even yet more complexity and risk.
Electric grids and water supplies have always been targets in wartime. These systems are critical to sustain the great population centers of the world. While mankind certainly inhabited the plant for thousands of years without such sophistication, certainly the standard of living, and most likely the sheer number of the humans on the planet would surely not survive without these systems.
It only takes a few days of being without electricity or water for chaos to erupt. Various types of natural disasters like Super Storm Sandy in the US and occasionally system failures such as the infamous blackout of 2003 in the Northeast US are what we typically think of as threats to prepare for. Nearly all utility providers across the globe conduct mock storms and system outages to practice how to deal with these situations. Increasingly, these practice sessions also simulate IT and OT threats as well as physical access security threats.
Although wars throughout history have been a large source of system disruptions or destruction, the most likely physical or logical threat no longer comes from an enemy country or armed force, rather in the form of terror groups, rogue employees, hackers or simply just from accidental sources.
So, as we continue to expand the greatness of these modern engineering feats, the industry must be more vigilant than ever in maintaining and securing these systems. The risk of system threats is greater than ever and the consequences are direr than ever. This is not an optional task, it is an absolute critical one that the industry must embrace as a top priority.