How Safe is the US Electrical Grid?

All it takes is a hit on nine substations, then it’s lights out for America and back into the 1800’s for at least a decade — on top of up to 90% of American lives being lost due to the domino effects.

 

Throughout history, inexplicable natural phenomena have tended to instill an understandable fear in people. Accounts of the solar storm of August and September 1859 stand out for their tendency toward the whimsical and delighted.

For telegraph operators in the Americas and Europe, however, the experience caused chaos. Many found that their lines were simply unusable—they could neither send nor receive messages. Others were able to operate even with their power supplies turned off, using only the current in the air from the solar storm. Continue reading

Threat to the grid? Details emerge of sniper attack on power station

Newly reported details about a 52-minute sniper attack on a central California electrical substation last year are raising concerns from Capitol Hill and beyond, amid questions over whether it was the work of terrorists.

The April 16, 2013, attack had not been widely publicized until The Wall Street Journal reported new details in a story on Wednesday. The attack reportedly started when at least one person entered an underground vault to cut telephone cables, and attackers fired more than 100 shots into Pacific Gas & Electric’s Metcalf transmission substation, knocking out 17 transformers. Electric officials were able to avert a blackout, but it took 27 days to repair the damage.  Continue reading

The Complex ‘Military-Style’ Raid on California Power Station Spooks U.S.

When U.S. officials warn about “attacks” on electric power facilities these days, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a computer hacker trying to shut the lights off in a city with malware. But a more traditional attack on a power station in California has U.S. officials puzzled and worried about the physical security of the the electrical grid–from attackers who come in with guns blazing.

Around 1:00 AM on April 16, at least one individual (possibly two) entered two different manholes at the PG&E Metcalf power substation, southeast of San Jose, and cut fiber cables in the area around the substation. That knocked out some local 911 services, landline service to the substation, and cell phone service in the area, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Foreign Policy. The intruder(s) then fired more than 100 rounds from what two officials described as a high-powered rifle at several transformers in the facility. Ten transformers were damaged in one area of the facility, and three transformer banks — or groups of transformers — were hit in another, according to a PG&E spokesman. Continue reading