Argonne helps Illinois prepare for real-world disaster
On May 22, 2019, Argonne helped organizations across Illinois respond to four tornadoes, a plane crash, epic flooding, and a cyberattack. Fortunately, these disasters were merely part of an elaborate training exercise, Operation Power Play, organized by ComEd.
Argonne took a major role in this year’s event, which was a great example of the lab driving collaboration with ComEd and many other players. Teams from both Decision and Infrastructure Sciences (DIS) and Strategic Security Sciences (SSS) helped create the scenarios, simulation software, demonstration activities, and media input that pressure tested participants from dozens of government agencies and private companies.
“We created a challenging exercise environment to give them a chance to practice in a realistic way. The goal was to help them see what they’re doing well and identify areas where they need to improve,” recounted Brett Hansard, a risk and crisis communications specialist with the National Preparedness Analytics Group within DIS.
John Dactelides, principal software engineer in DIS, and his team developed three software tools that helped drive the event scenario:
- The Virtual Sim Cell that connected role-playing participants to curve-ball throwing controllers who assessed their reaction and response
- The Exercise Training Network that broadcast the 10 pre-produced media stories injected by Hansard’s team to heighten tension
- The Virtual Business Emergency Operations Center developed for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency
And, for the first time, the bi-annual exercise included a cyberattack, designed by Nathaniel Evans, program lead for cybersecurity research, and Steph Jenkins, cybersecurity analyst in the SSS division. The faux cyberattack was triggered by internet outages and triggered the activation of an integrity based malware.
Evans noted that many of the organizations had protocols in place to effectively deal with availability outages. “However, many of them were not well versed in the other things the bad guys plan, like integrity-based attacks that cause systems to underperform or send incorrect data.”
Additionally, Evans and his team built a cybersecurity model and led a cybersecurity demonstration showing the impact that an outage on one system can have on others. This highlighted some of the work and expertise Argonne has in dependency and interdependency analysis.
“It was a big success,” said Dactelides, who viewed the exercise as a challenge for Argonne as well. “The scale of the exercises we usually do is much smaller. This was much more demanding. Wherever there were some failures, they were learning points. Literally the next day we were making corrections to our network and to our platform.
By Cathy Powless