And in 2003 overgrown trees were partly to blame for a blackout that affected eight states and part of Canada -- some 50 million people. That one lasted up to four days in some areas.
- Biggest blackout in U.S. history (CBS News, 08/15/03)
But our next electric failure could be just a keystroke away.
"I'm not sure why it hasn't happened yet," said Pesce. "It's definitely not for lack of capability on various parts, be it us or the enemy. I think it comes down to timing. I think we need to make the right people mad at the right time."
Koppel says the one agency that would be ready to counter a cyberattack such as this is the Department of Homeland Security. But are they ready?
"No," he said. "I've talked to every former Secretary of Homeland Security, and they all acknowledge there is no plan."
And the current Secretary, Jeh Johnson, didn't offer much guidance to Koppel, either: "I kept asking 'What's the plan?' Why wait until disaster strikes? Why not tell 'em? Do you have a plan?' And he just sort of pointed up at a shelf filled with white binders and he said, 'Look, I'm sure there's something up there somewhere.'"
We wanted to find out for ourselves, but both the White House and the Department of Energy declined our requests for an on-camera interview.
The Department of Homeland Security also refused to speak on camera. Instead we were given a statement:
"To be clear, the Department of Homeland Security has a plan. In fact, our folks developed the first National Cyber Incident Response Plan with our government and private sector partners. Further, we have used this plan as the basis for several national exercises.
We, along with the Department of Energy, coordinate national efforts to strengthen the security and resilience of the electric grid. We also work with energy sector partners to promote the security and resilience of the grid, through myriad activities both seen and unseen, including constant information sharing, voluntary security assessments, and table-top exercises. Further, the Department's National Cyber and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), working with DOE and other partners, responds to cyber incidents impacting critical infrastructure, including the electric power industry."
--Todd Breasseale Assistant Secretary (Acting) for Public Affairs US Department of Homeland Security
Next, "Sunday Morning" reached out to some of the big electric companies. They refused to speak with us as well.
So we turned to Paul Stockton, a former Defense Department official whose duties included cyber security.
"Ted Koppel says the government has no plan. Is he right?" asked Reid.
"No, he's not right. The government is building plans very, very quickly now to help manage the consequences of an attack on the grid. but also to make sure that government systems are more resilient against attack."
"Are the power companies today prepared to respond to a large-scale cyber attack on the grid?"
"Power companies today are strengthening their ability to respond to an attack and restore power quickly," said Stockton."
Still, he admits, "Their readiness is not where it needs to be, given that the adversary continues to strengthen the sophistication of the weapons that will be used against the United States."
Ironically, it's our less-sophisticated electric providers which may have an edge here.
Take the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (or DMEA) in southwest Colorado, one of 900 power cooperatives in the United States. Not-for-profit and member-owned, it serves approximately 28,000 customers, and is far less Internet-dependent.