The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) power grid report revealed that the United States is at risk of a national blackout from just a small scale attack. If a coordinated act of terrorism occurred on just the handful of electric-transmission substations noted in the report, a complete power grid failure would likely occur. Just a small fraction of the power grid’s substations push electricity to large reasons. Since there is such a limited connection between electrical grid sections, it would reportedly be extremely difficult for other substations pick up the slack from the downed ones during an emergency, according to the FERC report.
The power grid is perhaps the most vulnerable aspect of infrastructure in the United States. The FERC report states that if just nine of the 55 substations failed or were taken out by a sniper, cyber attack, solar flare, or EMP, the entire power grid would fail to function. In spite of the vulnerable and overly-taxed nature of the power grid, not a single federal regulation requiring protection of the vital nine substations exists. Only substations at nuclear power plants are subject to such oversight. Utility regulators recently noted that they would “consider” initiating power grid security standards.
Energy Department Deputy Assistant Secretary David Ortiz believes that the electrical systems in the power grid are designed to be “resilient” and would be “difficult” for attackers to disable at many locations. The still unknown snipers at the California substation last year did not appear to have any difficulty at all when firing upon the installation.
A Wall Street Journal report also stated that the Obama administration has known about the FERC power grid findings for months. Members of Congress, White House officials, and administrators of a host of federal agencies were also reportedly briefed about the power grid dangers by then-FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff. The former FERC official has been sharing his power grid concerns with the public since the Pacific Gas & Electric terrorism attack at the California substation. In less than one hour, an unknown number of snipers were able to knock out 17 transformers.
Wellinghoff had this to say about threats to the power grid and the California substation attack:
“There are ways that a very few number of actors with very rudimentary equipment could take down large portions of our grid. I don’t think we have the level of physical security we need. “
Millions of dollars worth of damage occurred after snipers gained access to the power facility via an underground vault and cut electric cables. A regional blackout was narrowly averted and it took almost a month to repair all of the damage. If the power grid attack was a dress rehearsal for a larger act of terrorism, the snipers now know not only how much damage could be caused in a short amount of time, but also what actions were taken to reroute power delivery.
The FERC power grid report is not the only warning the federal government has had about the quite real possibility for system failure due to solar flares, EMP attack, cyber attack, terrorism, usage overload, and severe storms. Last year the American Society of Civil Engineers graded a host of infrastructure in the United States – the power grid earned a D+ grade. In their report the engineers said the power grid is in “poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration with a strong risk of failure.”
[Image Via: American Blackout/National Geographic]