US Power Grid Attacks Happening More and More, and the System Remains Very Vulnerable
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Security analysts are calling for national action to strengthen and upgrade the power grid nationwide. While attacks are happening with greater frequency, they've happened before.
In 2013, a well-planned attack against a Silicon Valley electrical substation caused millions of dollars in damages, while nearly taking out power to Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Intel. Since that attack, no suspects have been identified. The question remains, was it terrorism or extreme vandalism?
Now, a new wave of attacks is targeting America's electrical grid at the same time as Russia's brutal attacks on Ukraine's energy system dominate the news.
On Dec. 3, 2022, gunfire took out two North Carolina substations, knocking out power to 40,000 homes and businesses.
Then on Christmas Day, attackers struck four substations in Washington state, causing power outages.
Sgt. Darrien Moss Jr. of the Pierce County Sheriff's Dept. said, "Nothing was stolen from any of those facilities. So there's a good possibility they are related. We're going to be investigating to see if this was coordinated by a specific group or people."
While authorities search for suspects, what they really need are answers.
Sgt. Moss said, "We are aware of other incidents that occurred in Oregon and southern Washington, as well as the incidents from North Carolina earlier in this wintertime. So that's what we're looking into. Again, an open investigation, can't share very many details, but we are aware of those things and we're going to see if any of this stuff is related to that."
Across the United States, 79,000 electrical substations make up three large power grids, linked together by over 400,000 miles of transmission lines. When these substations were built, there was little thought given to security because few thought anyone would try to destroy the power grid. Many of them have just a chain link fence to protect millions of dollars worth of equipment. And this equipment isn't easily replaced. For example, Ultra-High Voltage (UHV) Transformers are custom-built and can take up to two years to make. That represents a real vulnerability to America's national security.
"This is not something new for the U.S. government to consider," former Secret Service agent Tim Miller told us. "Back when I was working on the staff of the Secretary of Homeland Security, we had major concerns about how vulnerable our power grid is. And unfortunately, it's gotten worse since then."
"We've got a bunch of enemies now that hate this country and some are internal. So it should cause us to go, 'Hey, wait a minute now we need to really look at hardening up our power grid,'" he said.
The 2013 attacks in California cost Pacific Gas and Electric more than $150 million in security upgrades. So fixing this problem won't be cheap.
The infrastructure law passed last year includes $15 billion to upgrade and strengthen the power grid, but some energy experts estimate it would cost as much as $5 trillion dollars to modernize and upgrade the protection of the country's electric system.
Miller said, "We definitely need to look at making some of our key facilities way more hardened than they are, and then but the real issue is how do we create redundancy within the system to make sure that if one element fails our whole grids are not going down."
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