Recently, the electric utility industry and various government agencies have taken steps to enhance the security of electric substations in the US.
Physical security measures–such as fences, cameras, and security personnel–have been implemented to prevent physical attacks. This uptick in substation security has been, in part, due to several high-profile attacks on substations that have made the news.
These incidents serve as a constant reminder of the critical importance of protecting electric substations and the electrical grid and underscores the need for continued investment in security and resilience measures.
According to USA Today, at least 108 human-related events were reported during the first eight months of 2022, compared with 99 in all of 2021 and 97 in 2020. More than a dozen cases of vandalism have been reported since September 2022.
The first of the epidemic of substations attacks that garnered much national attention was the April 2013 attack in California.
Shortly before 1 a.m. on April 16, unknown attackers unleashed a coordinated attack on Pacific Gas & Electric’s Metcalf substation in the northern part of the state. This attack caused widespread power outages in Silicon Valley and was the result of multiple physical assaults on the substation’s transformers.
The attack occurred in the early morning hours and the attackers used high-powered rifles to shoot at the transformers, causing significant damage and disrupting the flow of electricity.
By shooting holes low in the oil reserves, the impact of the attack occurred long after the perpetrators had fled the scene. It took several days for power to be fully restored and disrupted electricity in many parts of Silicon Valley.
Another high-profile electric substation attack occurred in December 2015 when a Duke Energy substation in Indiana was targeted.
This attack involved the theft of copper wire, which caused a power outage that affected thousands of customers.
The theft of copper wire from electric substations is a common problem in many areas and can be particularly damaging to the electrical grid, as the stolen wire is often used to repair or replace damaged equipment.
So these attacks can be caused by common theft or hooliganism but more and more, they are starting to resemble a form of domestic terrorism. In January, the Department of Homeland Security said domestic extremists had been developing “credible, specific plans” since at least 2020.
With the nation containing over 55,000 transmission substations, each of which represents a serious source of widespread outages, these attacks represent a threat to the grid that could leave millions without power for days or even weeks. This type of attack would have both devastating economical and personal consequences.
Why are these substations so vulnerable? The answers are many.
Many industry leaders are saying that it is important to adopt a multi-layered approach to the physical security of electric substations to prevent further attacks.
The approach needs to include the following key elements:
Despite these measures, electric substation attacks will remain a significant threat to the stability of the electrical grid.
Physical attacks, cyber attacks, and natural disasters are all potential threats that must be taken seriously.
The electric utility industry and government agencies have taken steps to enhance the security of electric substations, but there is still much work to be done to ensure the stability and resilience of the electrical grid.
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