- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii civil defense officials said Friday they’re launching a project to improve the security and resiliency of Oahu’s electrical grid.

The state Department of Defense will work with Hawaiian Electric, IBM, U.S. Pacific Command and other entities on a study exploring options.

“Essentially, this effort will ultimately be focused on building a more secure grid for Hawaiian Electric customers, while ensuring the most reliable power sources,” Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong, the state adjutant general and director of state civil defense, said in a statement.

Researchers will analyze weather patterns to better understand how cloudy days and lack of wind will affect the power supply. This is becoming more important as the island generates more electricity with solar panels and wind turbines.

They’ll also strive to understand how to better protect the grid from attacks like one that hit Silicon Valley one day after the Boston Marathon bombings.

In that incident south of San Jose, unidentified individuals fired shots into a power plant substation, damaging at least five transformers and causing an oil leak. They also cut AT&T; fiber-optic cables, temporarily knocking out phone service, including 911 lines.

Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff earlier this week described the attack as an act of terrorism, but the FBI has said it’s found no indications to back that up. The FBI is investigating the incident.

The vulnerability of Oahu’s electrical grid was highlighted when the entire island lost power after a magnitude-6.7 earthquake struck off the Big Island in 2006.

Oahu’s power system became overloaded and completely shut down in the 20 minutes after the quake. The island was completely without electricity for 4 1/2 hours. Power wasn’t fully restored until the following day.

A lightning strike triggered another islandwide outage three years later. Some neighborhoods were left without power for 12 hours that time.

Hawaiian Electric Co. spokeswoman Lynne Unemori said the utility will provide researchers with grid condition data to use in their study. She said the project compliments other industry and Hawaiian Electric efforts to improve the grid’s reliability.

“It addresses an important issue for all of us,” Unemori said.

The Pacific Disaster Center, which is managed by the University of Hawaii, will also work on the study.

The participants aim to have preliminary results of their study in May.

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