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Power Grid Independent IT Verification & Validation: One Approach to Grid Health

The nation’s power grid is at risk. Events of August 14, 2003 and Houston in the summer of 2005 imply that the power grid can fail in a catastrophic way. Logic suggests that any grid may crash in a similar manner, and investigations of both events have determined that ultimately it was an information technology (IT) failure.

While a physical event such as a tree falling on a power line may be the root cause, the effect is that the computer systems managing the grid responded as a function of electron flow among sensing and decision-making devices. Exactly the problem identified with online systems during the Y2K assessment less than five years ago!

Moreover, the decision cycle of automated systems is faster than the human oversight systems and subsequently, the machines may accelerate a decision process more rapidly than human intervention can overrule. The following points must be addressed:

  • Physical Cause May have Led to IT / Communications Infrastructure to Default Position (usually shut-down)

    – Human Intervention Inadequate to Stop Automated Processes?

    • How does the emerging man—machine interface address the emerging real-time machine to machine decision process?
    • How are human overseers trained?

    – Are New Processes in Order?

  • Valid, Unbiased Data and Information Required before Making this Decision
  • Network Topology May not be Known / Understood

    – Especially at Interconnect (custody transfer) Points

    – System Dynamics Methodology Scenarios

There is clearly a need for a better understanding of how the networked automated decision-making systems function, and how these systems may be managed more effectively to prevent a recurrence of cascading grid failure.

IV&V Methodology

The assessment of the information infrastructure that supports the modern power generation company or transmission provider is the nervous system of the grid. Any assessment of the grid must include an independent verification and validation of the data acquisition and information management systems that (actually) manage the grid.

  • Software Verification & Validation

    -Using Software Engineering Institute (SEI) standards -Project Management in Accordance with Project Management Institute (PMI) Standards -Security Assessment in Accordance with Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and other emerging Standards

  • Used Extensively to Verify and Validate Distributed Processing during Y2K
  • Scenario “Gaming” Using the Strategic Decision Sciences’ Structural Dynamics Methodology

Program Outline

For example, data from the IV&V can be presented in an easily read format, such as shown in the following chart. To illustrate areas of potential weakness in readiness, the following group of charts provides summary statistics and quantitative measurements of each IV&V service finding.

These summaries are represented in high-level charts and tables using a gradient rating system of RED, YELLOW, and GREEN to indicate varying degrees of readiness—ratings are helpful to compare high-level areas of strength and weakness in the readiness efforts. These figures yield information for the purpose of understanding and comparison of the organization’s internal readiness among various critical systems, facilities, and departments.

Any reference to readiness of a system, facility, or department is NOT an organization wide reference, but rather a reference specifically pertaining to the selected system, selected by the organization for evaluation during the course of the IV&V

Summary recommendations and areas of concern are presented in the Service Results Summary section and do not apply to any one specific department or system. Service Results Summaries are intended to provide an overall assessment of the organization’s selected critical systems in aggregate and by department.

Structural Dynamics Methodology

As part of the IV&V, information obtained is fed into decision support simulation models that it has developed and used for assessment of online system availability and network interaction.

Moreover, this solution can feed data into other simulation packages as well, such as those that its customers may already be using to manage the grid.

At Risk

Every networked data acquisition and information management system in the world is at risk to systemic failures. Today, no networked computing system is isolated from the global Internet. Logically, not only are endogenous issues such as the cascading failures of August 14, 2003, but exogenous components such as cyber terrorism compound the environment.

One Solution

There is a need for a high value solution that enables electric power producers and transmission firms the ability to assess their capability to deliver in a real-time environment. This solution will most likely be a combination of government and industry.

  • Individual Firms Cannot Accomplish This Process Themselves (across all industry segments)

    -Shown to be True for Y2K

    -Recent Survey by Meta Group -- 77% of 219 IT Executives indicated a lack of in-house Project Management Experience

    -A Survey of 459 CIOs Two Months after 9/11 found that only 53% of firms had Business Continuity Plans, and less than 50% had IT Security Awareness and Training for Employees – ComputerWorld, August 11, 2003.

  • Often Quarterly Financial Performance Drivers Limits Investment

    -Under Sarbanes-Oxley?

    -Is this the right perspective for an online economy?

Optimizing Investment

The tab for upgrading the grid after August 14, 2003 was put at over $100 billion. A major expenditure by any measure, but more importantly, these funds are spent by private industry, not the government. If this level of investment is the norm, shareholders must receive value in exchange. Moreover, customers and regulatory agencies must be assured of electric power availability.

This solution provides power industry clients with a methodology that will enable these companies to insure that their networked systems are responsive to the current business needs. An IV&V of the information management network that enables the power grid can be conducted quickly and at a reasonable cost. This is a decision support solution that can add significant shareholder value to its customers.

Scott Shemwell's picture

Thank Scott for the Post!

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