This week's utility industry war games to test the energy grid's ability to withstand an attack will go on, unaffected by Friday's arrest of the CEO of the group hosting the major two-day exercise.
Gerry Cauley, the head of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, was arrested on a domestic violence charge involving his wife. He was held briefly Friday on a misdemeanor charge of battery and family violence in a Gwinnett Country jail near Atlanta, where NERC is based and Cauley lives.
The group, designated by Congress as the nation's electric reliability organization, does not foresee the incident canceling or postponing the utility industry exercise.
The arrest "doesn't" affect GridEx IV, Nov. 15-16, from moving forward this week, said NERC spokeswoman Kimberly Mielcarek in an email to the Washington Examiner.
The NERC board of trustees said Saturday that it had placed Cauley on a leave of absence. The board named Charles Berardesco, the group's general counsel, as acting CEO.
NERC is the nation's electric reliability watchdog, overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and charged with developing enforceable standards for the utility industry that cover everything from tree cutting to ensure uninterrupted electricity flows, to guarding against physical and cyber attacks. Recent NERC reports have shown that attempted cyber attacks targeting the U.S. grid have reached a new high.
The GridEx drills will simulate unknown attackers, possibly foreign agents and terrorists, launching multiple physical and cyber-based attacks on power plant control centers, transmission line, and other electricity infrastructure.
Cauley wrote an op-ed on the exercise on Nov. 2, saying the threat the electric grid faces is "dynamic" and requires constant vigilance. The article was published in the Edison Electric Institute's magazine Electric Perspectives.
He said six years after the first GridEx, the exercise has become an "integral part of how industry and government partners prepare for, and respond to, disasters and emergencies that impact the energy grid."
This week's exercise is expected to include the banking and telecommunications sectors for the first time since the exercise was begun in 2011.
Cauley said the simulation will include officials from Mexico and Canada. He said this year's event will feature "real-world events" that will test utilities' emergency planning and ability to coordinate with first responders.
In prior years, the exercise featured simulated newscasts of attacks taking place in the U.S., as well as simulated social media to lend added realism.