Cybersecurity threats are nothing new. Recently, 100 million Capital One customers had their sensitive data, including Social Security and bank account numbers, exposed through a massive breach from just one hacker. The full extent of the damage caused by one person’s actions won’t be known or felt for months to come.
Though instances like the Capital One or Equifax breaches are, unfortunately, more commonplace, there are still areas largely ignored that, if hacked, could lead to catastrophic damage across the entire U.S.: public utilities and energy.
To help combat these possible threats, Texas Tech was awarded a $482,415 Texas Talent Connection grant from the Office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The funds will go toward cyberphysical security training for the energy and water industry program serving Bailey, Cochran, Crosby, Dickens, Floyd, Garza, Hale, Hockley, King, Lamb, Lubbock, Lynn, Motley, Terry and Yoakum counties.
“More and more, public utilities are controlled by computer systems,” said Andy Swift, associate director of education at Texas Tech’s National Wind Institute (NWI). “All the things that measure and monitor these systems are often hooked up either by cell phones or by the internet. A lot of this equipment is available on the internet, so people can hack in one way or another. When that happens, that’s not good. You don’t want a foreign entity taking control of your power plant, your oil well or your water system. So as these systems grow increasingly predominant, the people who run them need to upgrade their skills.”
The program, which will be facilitated by the NWI, will develop and provide focused training tied to occupational skill acquisition, job placement and career enhancement in the utilities and energy industries for enrolled students and those already in the workforce, known as incumbent workers.
In order to apply for the grant, Texas Tech needed support from the local Workforce Development Board, Workforce Solutions South Plains.
“Participants will be able to take advantage of our employer and job placement services,” said Martin Aguirre, CEO of Workforce Solutions South Plains. “Not only that, but there has to be a projected need from employers. We can’t just train people for something and not have an employment opportunity they can fill. So that’s where we come in. Workforce Solutions is the employment training arm for the Texas Workforce Commission. We’re always looking at how we’re working with our community. We’re excited to be part of it.”
The course will include hands-on training at Group NIRE. The company was formed in 2010 by Texas Tech to provide industry, government and academia with a field demonstration site to solve the challenges of integrating renewable energy sources and emerging energy-efficiency technologies with the electric grid, while ensuring that the grid is resilient and secure in the face of growing cybersecurity and extreme weather concerns.
“We’re going to offer a more advanced program in the Group NIRE facility, which will include operating backup generators, like solar energy in the building, energy storage systems, hydroponics, water-treatment systems and things like that,” said Mark Harral, CEO of Group NIRE. “That way, people can get a broad idea of how to protect assets. There will be real assets that operate off of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) energy management system inside the building.”