The California power station attack was not a drunken act by a few locals out for an evening of destructive behavior as first thought. A new report on the incident in the Wall Street Journal now indicates that snipers took down 17 transformers in about 52 minutes. The revealing report has prompted increased concerns about power grid directed terrorism. If the overly-taxed and antiquated power grid goes down, neither the government nor utility companies have enough transformers on hand to replace damaged ones. A nation in the dark unable to offer medical care, gas for military transportation, or keep the food supply rolling becomes extremely vulnerable.
The attack on the California power station occurred on April 16 last year. An individual reportedly slipped into an underground vault near a busy freeway and snipped telephone cables. A half an hour later snipers opened fire on the power grid substation. In just 19 minutes, the shooters were able to known out 17 massive transformers which transport energy to the Silicon Valley. Just a single minute before a police cruiser rolled onto the scene, the snipers disappeared into the dark night.
In an effort to prevent a rolling blackout, power grid officials opted to reroute power around the California substation and requested that Silicon Valley power plants quickly begin generating more electricity. Utility workers were unable to bring the substation back online for 27 days. A coordinated sniper attack on multiple power stations would have been a devastating disaster. Whether or not the sniper attack on the power station was an isolated incident or a dry run for a future terrorism attack remains to be seen.
No suspects have been arrested for the attack on the PG&E Metcalf transmission substation attack. At least one former federal regulator has deemed the California power station attack a terrorist act. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Jon Wellinghoff called the sniper transformers attack the “most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the gird that has ever occurred” in the United States.
In November the United States, Mexico, and Canada conducted the GridX II power grid drill. The cyber attack and sniper scenario highlighted the vulnerabilities of the electrical grid. Wellinghoff engaged in closed door “high-level briefings” to Congress, the White House, and several federal agencies that same month, and then stepped down from his post. Since no arrests have been made in the California power station attack and the incident has received very little attention, he is now taking his national security concerns to the public. Wellinghoff continues to feel that a larger power grid terrorism attack is “in the works” and critical electrical grid stations are not being properly protected.
The FBI does not think a terrorist group organized the California substation attack, according to a spokesman from the federal agency. Investigators are reportedly still “sifting through evidence” related to the power grid attack. A former PG&E official and Metcalf owner agrees with Wellinghoff’s assessment of the national security dangers.
Retired PG&E Vice President of Transmission Mark Johnson had this to say about the California power grid sniper attack:
“This wasn’t an incident where Billy-Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskis, to come in and shoot up a substation. This was an event that was well thought out, well planned, and they targeted certain components.”
Do you think the California power station attack was a terrorism dress rehearsal?