The next disaster scenario power companies are preparing for

Energy industry leaders believe a cyberthreat could produce a blackout even bigger than the , which left an estimated 50 million people in the dark.

“We have to treat the cyberthreat with the same respect that we give to forces of nature, [such as] hurricanes, floods, ice, storms,” said Chris Peters, vice president for critical infrastructure at Entergy, a company that operates nuclear power plants. “We have to fund it, we have to staff it and we have to be ready to respond as necessary.”

Peters was among several power executives who gathered in Washington recently to discuss the need to better protect the electric grid against cyberattacks. Their consensus judgment was that such attacks are probably inevitable.

“At some point in time, somebody is coming at me,” said Scott Saunders, information security officer for the Municipal Utility District in Sacramento, Calif. “It’s going to happen.”