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A Few Attacks Could Knock Out U.S. Grid

by Brendan McGarry on March 13, 2014

electrical_substation

A few well-coordinated attacks could knock out the U.S. electrical grid, according to a news report.

Nine, to be precise.

Strikes against just nine key substations during a period of peak usage would be enough to leave the country dark for weeks or possibly months, according to an article by Rebecca Smith of The Wall Street Journal. That’s based on a previously unreported study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Out of a network of some 55,000 substations, the electrical grid relies on 30 key high-voltage substations to move power around the country, according to the report. Using software to simulate what would happen if critical substations faltered in each of the Eastern, Western and Texas regions, the commission “found that different sets of nine big substations produced similar results,” it stated.

The idea of attacking the country’s electrical infrastructure isn’t so far-fetched.

Last year in Silicon Valley, a gunman or gunmen reportedly fired 150 rounds from an assault rifle for over 20 minutes at a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. substation south of San Jose, Calif., knocking out 17 transformers, according to a report by CNN. The saboteur or saboteurs of the April 16, 2013, attack, who also reportedly cut a fiber-optic telephone cable, remain at large.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation deemed the shooting an act of vandalism, not terrorism.

Nevertheless, the incident has prompted calls from lawmakers and officials — including former FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff — to better protect the nation’s grid. Until Congress authorizes an agency to require large-scale infrastructure changes, Wellinghoff is urging utilities to adopt improvements such as replacing fencing with solid or concrete barriers, and adding more lighting and recording devices to the perimeter, the network reported.

The industry is expected to propose new standards for protecting substations and property by June in response to an order from the commission, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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