Three Power Substations Attacked In Washington State On Christmas Day
HNewsWire: There is serious cause for alarm about the recent rise in power grid sabotage events in the United States. According to ABC News, on Christmas Day, vandals broke into three substation facilities in Pierce County, Washington, leaving thousands of customers in the dark.
Tacoma Public Utilities was in charge of two of the substations, while Puget Sound Energy was in charge of the third. All three were assaulted, according to the Pierce County Sheriff's Office; however, it is unclear "whether this was a concerted attack on the power systems" or not.
Early on Christmas morning, vandals caused damage to an electrical substation, prompting Tacoma Power personnel to repair the facility. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times.
The substations were not broken into, and the only damage done was vandalism, according to the sheriff's office. No information about the damaged devices or the instrument used to cause them was provided.
"As unfortunate as it is, the effects of today's purposeful harm to our system are, in some locations, far more serious than earlier tests suggested. Around 8 AM tomorrow, we should be able to get some clients back online "City of Tacoma Utilities issued a statement on Sunday.
Two North Carolina electricity substations were "deliberately attacked" earlier this month, and now two in Tacoma have been attacked. Bullet holes were discovered in transformers by Duke Energy workers.
We have pondered over the issue of who is ostensibly undermining the US electricity infrastructure. There have been 106 assaults on the electrical system so far this year, the most ever in a single year.
HNewsWire: One fact that has become more clear is that there has been an increase in assaults on our country's electrical system. NBC News reports...
Physical assaults and vandalism on the electric system were alleged to have caused about 600 electric emergency occurrences and disruptions throughout those nine years, according to reports. From the beginning of the year through the middle of August 2022, the latest month for which data is available, there have been 106 acts of violence or vandalism, according to the Energy Department. NBC News only has statistics for eight months into the future, but 2022 is the first year to hit triple digits.
It is my belief that the frequency of such assaults will increase in the coming years since our country is so full of easy prey.
This is becoming more true as big conflicts break out in different parts of the world.
Unfortunately, our country is profoundly divided, and there are many individuals in the world who despise us.
So, let's cross our fingers and hope that governments around the nation do something to increase safety at facilities like power plants.
Unfortunately, I don't see that happening very soon.
This emphasizes the need of being well-prepared with a contingency plan in the event of a prolonged power outage in your neighborhood.
After receiving two alerts from the Department of Homeland Security last month about potential attacks to our grid, the White House has begun monitoring our own vital infrastructure. According to one source, Russia has already "compromised U.S. energy networks" and shown it can employ cyber strikes to knock off power infrastructures. After studying the grid for a few months, we were taken aback by how susceptible it is and how often it is the victim of attacks. Almost a decade ago, one assault served as a wake-up call for business and government.
The most devastating assault on our electrical infrastructure in our country's history occurred on the night of April 16, 2013, in a strange occurrence south of San Jose.
The Metcalf Power substation was targeted by attackers who spent 20 minutes meticulously firing at high voltage transformers. Bullet holes in the chain link fence were seen on video.
According to Jon Wellinghoff, they were professionals. They were aiming for something particular. It was their intention to destroy the substation.
At the time, Jon Wellinghoff was chairman of FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a minor federal organization having control over the U.S. high voltage transmission system.
Bill Whitaker: You were so worried that you took a plane to check it out, right?
And you're right, Jon Wellinghoff. I also brought along two additional trainers for the United States' special forces. These organizations prepare individuals to carry out genuine acts of sabotage against public facilities.
What the ex-commandos unearthed even appeared familiar to them. They found that the assailants had scouted the area and positioned rock heaps to indicate where they planned to fire. That evening, they broke into two vaults below ground and disabled the substation's ability to send and receive signals.
Then they walked across the street and into the meadow, as described by Jon Wellinghoff. There were easily four or five places to shoot from.
No genuine safety, Bill Whitaker?
The security was nonexistent, according to Jon Wellinghoff.
They targeted the small cooling fins, resulting in the failure of 17 out of 21 massive transformers.
According to Jon Wellinghoff, their accuracy was excellent, as they were successful 90% of the time. And they did it in the dark, with the muzzle flash blinding them.
Someone in the surrounding area reported shooting to emergency services. With hardly a minute to spare before a police vehicle arrived, the shooters vanished without a trace. Substation outage lasted weeks, but PG&E was able to prevent catastrophe by finding other power sources.
What would have occurred if they had been successful?—Bill Whitaker. Could have taken down the whole of Silicon Valley, said Jon Wellinghoff.
We're talking about Google, Apple, and all these other companies, Bill Whitaker. Yes, sir, Jon Wellinghoff. Absolutely right.
Mr. Whitaker, Bill In your opinion, who may this person be?
I'm not sure, says Jon Wellinghoff. Whether or whether they were a sovereign country is unknown to us. We can't say whether or not they were local players. However, this was a very sophisticated assault, and its planning was the work of persons with actual expertise.
The grid is a huge, open area to shoot at. There are really three of them in the United States (the eastern, the western, and the Texas one). Substations are usually out of sight and out of mind for the vast majority of people. There are 55,000 of these facilities spread around the nation, and within each one are transformers, the backbone of the electrical system. Raw energy is transformed within these hulking metal containers to different voltages.
In the event of a transformer failure, like the one that occurred in Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy, the system is programmed to cause a limited blackout that will not affect the larger grid. However, the shutdowns may spread like a domino effect if many parts of the grid fail at once. That's what triggered the 2003 Northeast Blackout, which knocked out electricity for 45 million people throughout the United States. A physical attack on important transformers might cause cascading blackouts, according to a report commissioned by FERC's Jon Wellinghoff a few months before the assault on Metcalf.
Jon Wellinghoff: The fact that you only need to shut down a small fraction of U.S. substations in order to disable the whole system came as a huge surprise to us.
The Whole Grid, Bill Whitaker?
And you're right, Jon Wellinghoff.
How many would have to be knocked out, Bill Whitaker, before a nationwide blackout resulted?
Jonathan Wellingsworth: Under twenty.
The Wall Street Journal gained access to the research through a leak. It discovered that if saboteurs destroyed only nine substations, a nationwide blackout would occur in the United States.
Mr. Whitaker, Bill You're presenting things in a pretty levelheaded manner. My first thought is that this is really concerning.
It was scary, Jon Wellinghoff said. Indisputable fact. This is quite concerning.
Following the assault on Metcalf, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) demanded that utilities install walls and sensors to protect their most vital substations from future intrusion attempts. However, many substations continue to be easy targets, such as the large transformers we saw at a substation in southern California that serves over 300,000 consumers with just a chain link fence.
Prof. Granger Morgan, Ph.D.: Anyone familiar with electrical grids would know that their physical footprint is vast. It's easy to find weak spots because there are so many of them.
Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor Dr. Granger Morgan has led three government-commissioned National Academy of Sciences assessments on the nation's electrical system, the most recent of which was published in 2021. A previous report on terrorism was sealed for five years because of its sensitive nature.
Dr. Granger Morgan: All we did was make a compelling argument that the grid was physically extremely susceptible.
Mr. Whitaker, Bill The report on terrorism and the grid seems unnecessary.
Prof. Granger Morgan, Ph.D.: Terrorist groups' potential ability to launch an assault on the grid was a source of worry. Additionally, there have been a significant number of grid assaults all around the globe.
They've been using bombers, aircraft, and drones in their attacks. In 2015, Russia launched a cyberattack on Ukraine's power infrastructure, knocking down roughly 60 substations and leaving 230,000 people without electricity. The U.S. energy secretary has said that Russia is capable of doing the same in this case.
Prof. Granger Morgan, Ph.D.: We did argue in our study on power system resilience that we need some entity (likely the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security) to take a comprehensive inventory of the many vulnerabilities we face and begin to assign responsibility for fixing them. There is currently no one in charge of resilience concerns. Actually, there isn't a single organization in charge of everything.
Mr. Mabee, Mike The United States' electrical grid is the world's most massive machine. It exemplifies the state-of-the-art in engineering. It is not owned or managed by a single entity. The electric system is really owned and operated by over 3,000 separate businesses, both public and private.
Former police officer and grid security specialist Mike Mabee served in Iraq. Day-to-day, he goes to work for the state. He shares findings on a website called "Grid Security Now" that electric companies would prefer stayed hidden from the public. He is captivated and repulsed by the grid.
Mr. Mabee, Mike Everybody should be as worried as I am. There have been catastrophes in the past, but they were usually limited to a certain location. A nationwide blackout, on the other hand, is something we haven't experienced before despite the fact that it's a real possibility given certain dangers like cyberattacks, physical security breaches, and natural disasters. Moreover, the average American citizen has no way of coping with an extended blackout of the power system.
Two years ago, he relocated to Texas and, expecting the worse, he made sure to secure alternative energy sources such as solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries.
Mike Mabee: It's a 48-volt setup in its entirety.
While Mabee and his loved ones made it through Texas' terrible hurricane last winter, hundreds of others did not.
When people became chilly, they would do things like crawl inside their cars in the garage to attempt to remain warm, which led to a lot of carbon monoxide poisoning and fatalities, as explained by Mike Mabee.
Mabee has been an irritant to the federal government and power corporations.
Mr. Mabee, Mike Concerning the security of the supply chain, I have lodged a formal grievance. Concerning the safety of the premises, I've lodged a formal complaint. Having been inconvenienced by the power outage in Texas, I decided to submit a formal complaint.
Mr. Whitaker, Bill Government officials and business leaders. They find you to be a source of irritation.
Mike Mabee: I'm proud to carry the moniker of "grid security gadfly," which I was given by my peers.
The U.S. Energy Agency has been a common target. According to Mabee, the data the DOE publishes on the grid is muddled and scattered. He said he tries for hours to figure it out.
Mr. Mabee, Mike Electric disturbances must be reported as per the law. But the information provided by the Energy Department is terrible. So, I decided to perform some number crunching on my own time. In addition, I discovered that physical assaults on the electric are the cause of 38% of electric disturbance incidents in the USA.
Bill Whitaker: 38 percent? Wow, that's a substantial amount.
Mr. Mabee, Mike So, over 700 direct assaults on the U.S. power system have taken place in the last decade.
Some people are just following in the footsteps of the Metcalf attack. A blackout occurred in Utah in 2016 when an eco-terrorist shot up a huge transformer. He said he had intended to bring down the West Coast's power grid by attacking five substations in a single day. In 2020, the FBI found a "lights out" conspiracy by white supremacists to launch coordinated attacks on electrical substations throughout the nation.
HNewsWire: Following an assault on the electricity system in Moore County, North Carolina, a state of emergency has been proclaimed, and a curfew has been imposed.
More than 40,000 people lost power, and officials estimate it might be days before service is restored. There will be no schooling till further notice, and the local hospital is now running on generator power.
Approximately 100,000 people call this region home, and it is rich in tourist attractions like the Pinehurst Resort. On Saturday night, an unknown number of assailants opened fire on the electrical system, damaging at least two substations, according to authorities.
It was deliberate, Sheriff Ronnie Fields stated. They were experts at what they did.
Sheriff Fields stated, "I can promise you, to the perpetrators out there, we will find you" and added that the investigation was being conducted by a "team" consisting of his office, the FBI, the State Bureau of Investigation, and the law enforcement agencies of the eleven municipalities that make up the county. He also said that he has been in touch with Governor Roy Cooper's office.
Investigators, according to Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields, have uncovered no evidence linking the assault that occurred on a Saturday night to a contentious drag performance that took place in the heart of downtown Southern Pines.
Just over an hour into the Downtown Divas' performance at the Sunrise Theater, the lights went out. Protesters and counter-protesters held demonstrations in front of the theater before the performance.