South Carolinians have dealt with the aftermath of war, earthquake and hurricanes and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said this week the state now needs to be prepared for another type of disaster — cyber attacks.
“A threat we’re not prepared for nearly as much as we should be is a cyber attack,” Graham said during a conference that drew doctors and other first responders to the Medical University of South Carolina’s Center for Health Professional Training and Emergency Response.
“Just imagine life in a city the size of Charleston where nobody’s cellphone works, where your computers shut down and the power goes off,” he said. “But unlike fixing a power line that is knocked down by a strong storm, there is someone out there intentionally causing this problem.”
Graham said he is working with U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, a Republican who represents the Charleston area, on a measure that would define what is considered crucial infrastructure and what can be done to protect it.
“Eight-five percent of the cyber network is owned by the private sector,” Graham said. “This is one area where the threat can only be dealt with in a partnership arrangement between the federal government, the state and local governments and the private sector.”
Scott called a cyber attack “inevitable” but said South Carolina can help. He said technology such as that developed at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, which has a facility in the area, can help the nation deal with cyber threats while also creating local jobs.
As in any disaster, individuals have to play a part in recovery, he said. Doing such simple things as having separate backups of computer files and having computer passwords and log-ins stored in separate locations can help people recover from a cyber attack, he said.
Another issue discussed at the conference was the so-called disaster patient surge. That’s when, after a disaster such as a hurricane, emergency facilities and hospitals find themselves inundated with patients who may or may not immediately need help.
“I’m not sure you can prevent it from happening,” said Dr. Ray Greenberg, the president of the Medical University of South Carolina. “It’s not unusual to have a lot of people we might call the worried well who think they have a problem” but can be treated more appropriately at other facilities.
Greenberg said South Carolina seems to be in good shape to deal with hurricanes, especially drawing on the lessons of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. But he added that was a long time ago and many residents in the area have not experienced a severe storm.
The biggest challenge is coordinating the response to a disaster, he said.
“There is improving coordination between providers,” he said. “The weakness here and elsewhere is the fragmentation of the response system.”