EDM Thursday Briefing: Government Cyber Security, Wildfires, Power Grid Hacking
Emergency and disaster management briefing for April 28, 2016: A new bill looks to bolster cyber security at HHS, the wildfire in the Shenandoah worsens, Colorado announces a mild wildfire outlook, the cause of a recent North Carolina wildfire is determined, the GAO expresses concerns over U.S. power grid vulnerability to electromagnetic threats, and a power company hires hackers to test its security.
- House Representatives Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) introduced a bill this week titled the HHS Data Protection Act that aims to improve cyber security at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The legislation would create a chief information security officer position within HHS. The new bill comes as a response to reports that surfaced in 2015 detailing different data breaches at HHS in recent years.
- The wildfire first reported more than 10 days ago in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is still burning and has now spread across more than 10,000 acres. Firefighters from 33 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico are battling the forest fire, making used of at least four helicopters, two airplanes and several ground vehicles. The fire is forcing the closure of both hiking trails and roads, as more than 17 miles of the Appalachian Trail remains closed, as does 22 miles of Skyline Drive -- a road that winds through Shenandoah National Park.
- Colorado state officials announced a relatively mild wildfire outlook for Colorado for the third straight year. Both 2014 and 2015 were low wildfire years for Colorado after 2012 and 2013 were both bad years. Colorado endured more than 4,900 fires on 348 square miles in 2013, while at least 6,100 fires burned more than 660 square miles in 2012.
- North Carolina officials determined the cause for a wildfire in the state that burned at least 15,000 acres over the past 10 days. It was determined that road maintenance work, specifically a grass mowing operation, sparked the fire that has began burning near the Dare County and Hyde County line, and spread into in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and other nearby areas. As of last night, the wildfire is 78 percent contained.
- The Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released a report from March that analyzed U.S. vulnerability to electromagnetic threats. The GAO completed the review of recent federal efforts and also provided recommendations of actions that could be taken to enhance protection. The GAO reported that while the U.S. has taken steps to protect against electromagnetic risks, the power supply remains vulnerable and more needs to be done to safeguard the U.S. power grid.
- A power company in the Midwest hired a team of hackers to test its security and uncover any vulnerabilities that may exist. The hackers tried to get into buildings and then hack into the power company's network in an attempt to gain full access -- and had great success. The hackers uncovered many vulnerabilities and even found it to be relatively easy to gain access to critical components in some instances.
- A Baltimore police officer shot a 14-year-old boy, who he reportedly believed was carrying a semiautomatic pistol. The boy was reportedly carrying a spring-air-powered BB gun and not a real firearm. Police said that he has non-life-threatening injuries to a "lower extremity." The shooting occurred on the one-year anniversary of the infamous Freddie Gray riots in the city. Earlier this week, the city of Cleveland agreed to pay $6 million to the family of Tamir Rice to settle the federal lawsuit filed by the family after the police shooting death of the 12-year-old boy in 2014.
- South Korea's government reported that an intermediate range ballistic missile fired by North Korea early this morning failed. The missile reportedly crashed just seconds after the test launch, South Korea's defense ministry said. North Korea continues to conduct military operations like this alleged missile launch in violation of United Nations resolutions. This latest missile test comes after the unsuccessful launch of a similar missile on April 15 -- an exercise that the U.S. Defense Department called a "fiery, catastrophic" failure.
- Van Zandt County in Texas experienced a 911 blackout for about 10 hours last weekend after severed fiber optic lines knocked out Internet, landlines, and cellphone communication in the region. The volunteer fire department in the region became a temporary 911 disaster center during the outage. Wills Point Police Chief Rob Powell said they will take a hard look at their backup plan and see what they can do to better handle situations like that in the future.
- The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced this week that three storm names will no longer be used for future weather events: Erika, Joaquin, and Patricia. If a particular storm brings significant amounts of death and/or destruction, the WMO removes that name for future use. Those three 2015 storms were powerful enough to bring about the retirement of the names.