On Sunday, November 14, 2010 the Dallas Cowboys defeated the New York Giants 33-20. Fans of the NFL had a number of reasons to watch this game; a historically bitter NFC East rivalry, the Cowboys’ new coach Jason Garrett testing his coaching prowess against a strong opponent, or simply wanting to catch a glimpse of the Giants’ new $1.6 billion New Meadowlands stadium. I personally was watching the game, or at least as much that was covered by the NFL’s RedZone channel.
You might be asking yourself why I am talking about a sports event on an Information Security blog. Well for those of you who don’t know, the New Meadowlands stadium, filled with 80,851 fans, completely lost power during the 3rd quarter of the game. The complete outage lasted only 5-6 seconds, but for someone with a Smart Grid security background, the first thing I thought was terrorism. Thankfully this was not the case, and there are no indications of such; rather a New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority transformer failure caused the outage.
What concerns me is that while the stadium was able to restore power from the total blackout in a timely manner, the outage itself may have provided terrorists with a previously unidentified target: large stadiums filled with Americans. I have read about sporting events being the target of terrorist attacks before, but not when the power (or lack their of) was the target. Imagine the chaos that would have ensued if the stadium was without power for several minutes or hours. Several of the NFL players that night voiced similar concerns.
- The Giant’s star Justin Tuck commented that, “You start worrying about is your family all right.”
As I was watching the situation unfold on the RedZone channel, Fox’s Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Pam Oliver (who were covering the game) made the following observations:
- Troy Aikman – “They didn’t know what was going on nor did anyone else. But they hit the ground. A number of those guys did.”
- Pam Oliver – Described the scene as “organized chaos” and “extremely scary” when the lights went out.
Interestingly, when Buck and Aikman were describing the scene at the New Meadowlands, they failed to mention that during the blackout, fire alarms also sounded. They did mention that an announcement came over the PA system telling fans to remain in their seats and to stay tuned for evacuation instructions, if necessary.
Fortunately, no major incidents occurred as a result of the power outage. However, I hope that those responsible for securing the New Meadowlands, and all public venues, use this as an opportunity to better understand their own weaknesses and how they may now have an additional threat from terrorists; power outages.
Attacks like this are covered in my book, Securing the Smart Grid. Syngress has made part of the chapter covering threats like these, entitled “Threats and Impacts: Utility Companies and Beyond,” available here. It is unfortunate that situations like these are sometimes necessary to identify “unknown, unknowns” to our national security.