A Five Day Blackout in Mainz: Attacks on Critical Infrastructures and their Effects

Ben Kuilert, BA Media Studies and Film Studies

What happens if our power grid suffers a large scale failure? How do we maintain critical infrastructures in an emergency? How do we communicate without electric signal transmission and how can I actually prepare for an emergency? These questions were addressed by thirteen Q+ students from eleven different disciplines in the two-day seminar "A Five Day Blackout in Mainz: Attacks on Critical Infrastructures and their Effects" on October 26th and 27th, 2023. Represented by Kimberly Schl├╝ter, Q+ welcomed Professor Dr. Markus Zdrallek, Chair of Electric Power Supply Technology at the University of Wuppertal, to the Kisselberg on the first day of the seminar. In his interactive lecture, Zdrallek explained the technical background and causes of large-scale power failures, emergency plans from the energy suppliers and current research projects at the Chair of Electric Power Supply Technology. Zdrallek's many years of practical experience working with large grid operators was very valuable here. Of particular interest was the development of an emergency plan for the construction of stand-alone power grids, which should make it possible to temporarily supply critical infrastructure and important hubs such as emergency services, hospitals or administrative buildings with electricity in an emergency. In this context, the university is organizing a pioneering project in collaboration with Wuppertal's grid operators and the city administration in order to review the research results and take an important step towards a more resilient energy supply.

The next day continued at the premises of the THW Mainz technical relief organization. Dr. Ralf Essmann, honorary head of THW Mainz and Director of Administration at the Institute of Molecular Biology, and Hermann Ziegler, head of the Mainz fire department control center, as well as two experienced members of THW were on site to answer the students' questions about emergency response and the tasks of THW in the event of a blackout. In addition to the insights into the processes of the THW, the perspective of the fire department as part of the city administration was also very informative. After a detailed exchange between students and speakers, a short simulation followed in which the participants were asked to discuss various problems of a blackout. What would actually be lost if there was suddenly no electricity, or how do we communicate with people who don't live nearby? Finally, Dr. Essmann emphasized how important it is to be prepared for unexpected power outages, as external attacks, such as hackers, could put our energy security at risk.

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