America’s power grid is at risk, and the Department of Homeland Security recognizes this. Three days prior to an attack on two electrical substations in North Carolina, the federal agency issued a warning stating single individuals and small groups could be looking to plot attacks against critical infrastructure in the country. This warning came too late for authorities in North Carolina to take action, but other localities need to pay attention and take steps to protect the power grids in their area. 

Authorities have yet to find who is responsible for the attack on the North Carolina substations located in Moore County, but this attack led to a state of emergency being declared. As many as 45,000 utility customers were left without power as a result of the attack.

Genetec does not want to see any other American in a similar situation. What does every American need to know about the threat to the electric grid and other utilities today? 

The Current Warning

When the Homeland Security “National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin” was issued on November 30, it stated certain groups and individuals remain a threat to the country. The bulletin reports these individuals and group take their motivation from personal grievances and ideological beliefs. However, those left without power in North Carolina aren’t overly concerned about why the attack took place. They simply know they do not want it to happen again.

According to this bulletin, many people and places could fall victim to one of these attacks. This includes government facilities and personnel, along with critical infrastructure in the country. The media could become a target or it could be public gatherings where Americans come together.

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Racial and religious minorities are at risk, as well as faith-based institutions and schools. Anyone who is an ideological opponent of the attacker could fall victim to an attack, which means nobody in the country is safe, given the current political climate. Some people believe the attack in North Carolina was direct at the LGBTQI+ community. 

Prior Notice

The bulletin issued in November wasn’t the first of its kind. In January, the Department of Homeland Security issued a similar warning. In that bulletin, the agency reported domestic extremists were developing plans to attack the power grid, and these plans were credible. That bulletin went on to state the agency knows of plans dating back to 2020. 

The North Carolina Attack

Law enforcement continues to work to identify the culprits responsible for the North Carolina attack. Local authorities state this attack alerted them to the credibility of the threat and has people calling for a hardening of the state’s infrastructure to ensure nothing like this happens again.

Governor Roy Cooper describes this as a new level of threat. However, it actually isn’t, as agencies have been foiling similar plots against electrical grids and other infrastructure for a decade now. These plots and attacks have taken place in different parts of the country.

Similar Attacks

California’s Silicon Valley was the scene of a similar attack back in April 2013. At that time, suspects with high-powered rifles shot up the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Metcalf substation. The attacker riddled transformers with ammunition, causing $15 million in damage in the process. This attack led to the utility company spending $100 million to increase security at this and its other substations. One measure the utility company put into place is intruder detection systems. 

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The attackers in Silicon Valley took their sabotage a step further. When they attacked the substation, they also targeted a nearby fiber communications vault. They did so in an effort to disrupt communication with the Metcalf substation while preventing the alarm from being sounded. However, this attack didn’t lead to a power outage on the scale of that seen in North Carolina. 

The grid had redundancy already built into it, which helped to prevent a major power outage. In addition, although the Metcalf substation had to be removed from service, the utility provider had the ability to bypass that substation without impacting the energy supply in the area. This isn’t the case in many parts of the country. 

Reason for Concern

Many electrical distribution substations today exist in remote parts of the country. They lack the security seen at substations in heavily populated areas, which leaves them more vulnerable to attack. When attackers take out enough equipment, there will be no redundancy. This leaves the area with no way to receive power, which could result in a widespread outage across a region. Authorities need to take steps now to prevent this from happening. 

Authorities in America know how real this risk is, as this isn’t the first planned attack on a power grid in 2022. In fact, three men in Ohio pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide support to terrorists looking to attack power grids in the country. They did so to further their white supremacist ideology, as reported by the United States Department of Justice. These men connected online and developed a plot to attack electrical substations in the country using high-powered rifles. 

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The plans were established, although the men lived in three different states. The internet has made it easier for individuals with similar views to come together and develop these nefarious plots. The men believed attacking the substations would cause unrest in the region and the government would be forced to spend millions of dollars to correct the resulting damage.

The men had grand visions. They wanted to see the power grid go down for months, believing this could lead to war and possibly another Great Depression. Thankfully, a traffic violation brought the plot to an end, much as a traffic violation led to the arrest of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing. However, these men are not alone in planning attacks on energy facilities.

It has only been three years since a Utah man pled guilty to attacking a Buckskin Electrical substation in Kane County with a rifle. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for the attack, which led to a power outage in Kane County and the neighboring Garfield County. This attack led to approximately $400,000 in damage. 

Attacks on the power grid are not new, and America needs to take note of this. Steps must be taken to harden this critical infrastructure before more occur. Security providers recognize this and offer solutions that work. However, threats continue to evolve, so the security measures must evolve as well. America cannot afford to fall behind in this area, as too much is at risk. 

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