Tag: Electrical grid

Fight The Power, Literally

This is fairly disconcerting:

An attack by snipers on a Silicon Valley power substation last year is prompting the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to launch a crusade to better secure and defend the nation’s electrical grid.

The former chairman, Jon Wellinghoff, now a San Francisco energy law attorney, called the little-publicized April 2013 attack on the substation a “very well planned, coordinated and executed attack on a major piece of our electric grid infrastructure.”

While Wellinghoff has expressed concern that the attack may have been a test run for a bigger strike — possibly terrorism — the FBI has declared the incident wasn’t an act of terror and is still investigating the case, with no arrests made.

The FBI considers the incident vandalism, said spokesman Peter Lee in San Francisco.

In all, 150 rounds from an assault rifle were fired over almost 20 minutes at a Pacific Gas and Electric Company substation south of San Jose, California, knocking out 17 transformers in the post-midnight darkness of April 16, according to PG&E, Wellinghoff and CNN affiliate KTVU.

To prevent a blackout to Silicon Valley, workers re-routed power, but it took almost a month to make repairs, the affiliate reported.
Authorities also found an AT&T fiber optic cable was cut in an underground vault, causing a phone blackout, Sgt. Kurtis Stenderup with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office told KTVU.

By the time police arrived, the shooters, also suspected of damaging the phone line, were gone.

I actually think the FBI might be right here. This was definitely an organized attack, not some drunks shooting at a power station. But while attacking the power grid would make sense for a military force, the terror potential is low. Terrorists have a long history of eschewing this sort of attack for things that kill and … well … terrorize lots of people.

However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned. An organized attack — whether this is the work of terrorists, anarchists or a disgruntled employee — could cause major economic disruptions. The power grid has always been a soft spot. Last year, someone poked it.

That having been said, the call to better defend and secure our power grid is a bit unrealistic. We have thousands of these substations around the United States. “Securing” them would mean hiring tens if not hundreds of thousands of new security personnel at a cost of several billion dollars a year, at least. All of that expense would protect us from an attack that has happened once in the last couple of decades. I would suggest that a better use of our resources would be to investigate this incident and to keep a more watchful eye on terror elements, especially the domestic ones that would be more likely to do something like this (eco-terrorists, in particular).

I know we all want to be safe. But we simply can’t put armed guards on every corner of the country.