The power cut for more than 45,000 people is drawing renewed attention to the vulnerabilities of the United States’ power grid.
The power grid, made up of three systems that transmit electricity from power plants to homes and businesses across the country, is an integral part of infrastructure that experts say is vulnerable to both physical attacks and cyberattacks. While also unsafe for others.,
Dr. Granger Morgan, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who chaired three National Academy of Sciences reports on the power grid for the US government, said the attacks in North Carolina – where the shelling so badly damaged the equipment damaged enough that it needed to be replaced – shows the government should be taking the threat to the power grid “more seriously”.
“We know the power system is very vulnerable to physical attack, and we’ve known this for decades,” said Morgan, whose most recent NAS report was published in 2021. “We have made some progress, but the system is still very vulnerable.”
Why is the power grid weak?
The power grid is vulnerable, Morgan said, partly because of its accessibility: Many of the country’s 55,000 substations are blocked only by chain-link fences, and equipment within the fences is easily accessible. InPolice are yet to clarify how the unknown The attackers were able to simultaneously sabotage two substations ten minutes apart.
Part of the problem is that no single agency is responsible for managing the resilience of the power grid. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) manages the high-voltage transmission system, but at the “low voltage and distribution system level,” states have their own regulatory organizations, Morgan explained.
Three thousand different companies, both public and private, own or operate parts of the grid, says self-taught grid protection expert Mike Mabey.,
Another complication is the physical materials needed to keep power substations up and running. In Moore County, it took about five days to get the power back on because, There aren’t a lot of the necessary tools available to do the addition, Morgan explained.
“In recent years we have made great strides in depositing transformers, but the very high voltage transformers that form the backbone of the grid are extremely expensive, (and) rare,” Morgan said. “Many of them are not made in this country, (and) the backlogs for ordering them are very long.”
In general, many problems are the result of decades of underinvestment in the power system. The 2021 NAS report states that Morgan helped author a whole chapter devoting an entire chapter to these underinvestments, citing a confluence of issues including uncertainty about the future of the sector, the highly regulated nature of the industry and the need for innovation. Blamed, which is not necessary.
Attacks on substations on the rise
Moore County is not the first place substations have been targeted: Substations attacked in 2013More than $15 million in damage occurred in California, but quick intervention prevented power outages. From 2013 to August 2022, “there have been over 700 physical attacks against the US electric grid,” Maby In June 2022 the Department of Homeland Security warned that domestic extremists have been At least since 2020.
Brian Harrell, former assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security, told CBS News last week that there has been a “significant increase” in conversations about “sabotage and physical attacks on distribution and transmission substations.”
“Power stations are an attractive target, and domestic terrorist groups know that destroying this infrastructure can have serious impacts on industry, citizens and local governments,” Harrell said. Looking at critical infrastructure as targets.”
On December 6, CBS News confirmed the existence of bulletins issued by local and federal law enforcement in Oregon warning of attacks on power grids following recent incidents there and in Washington state. According to the memo, power companies in both states have reported “physical attacks on substations using hand tools, arson, firearms and metal chains.”
Law enforcement has also expressed concern that the Moore County attack could be followed by copycat incidents in other parts of the country.
Apart from physical attacks, the grid is vulnerable to cyber attacks which can also cause blackouts and disruptions. In August 2022, Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber,that his department engaged with private companies about how to counter the cyberattacks seen in Ukraine.
“We’ve taken any information about malicious software or tactics that the Russian government has used (and) shared with the private sector how to protect against it,” she said.
What lessons can be learned from the Moore County attack?
Morgan said he hoped the situation in Moore County would spur those concerned to discuss solutions that could be done to strengthen the grid and keep it safe.
“We keep doing the program. It would be nice if, sooner or later, people in senior administrative positions in the federal government say ‘Okay, finally the time has come… Let’s see if we can work our way through this messy combination. Technical and political problems make it difficult for us to do everything we need to do to keep the grid resilient,” he said.
More protection at substations could prevent attacks similar to those in North Carolina, Morgan said, noting that expanded investment in backup or standby equipment could also help mitigate power outages if they do occur.
“Things like hardening the stations or putting (the equipment) behind opaque barriers and things like that could also be (a solution),” he said. “But ultimately, if you have a really determined opponent, you can’t defend the power system completely.”