Recent Substation Attacks Raise Heightened Awareness
The recent surge in physical attacks sabotaging electrical substations throughout the country serves as a somber reminder of the vulnerability of the electric grid’s critical assets. Substations play a crucial role in
moving power from generation sources to end users.
Late last year, numerous utilities reported criminal activity. In North Carolina, two substations about 10 miles apart were shot at, creating enough damage to put nearly 45,000 customers in the dark for days.
Closer to home, Portland General Electric reported an attack on a substation in Clackamas County. Cowlitz Public Utilities District in Washington had two substations vandalized.
On Christmas Day, nearly 14,000 customers lost power as Tacoma Public Utility and Puget Sound Energy had a combined four substations sabotaged. Two suspects were apprehended. They confessed their motivation was to cause a power outage so they could commit a burglary nearby.
These criminal acts did not require a high degree of sophistication. Reportedly, the perpetrators used hand tools, guns and arson to destabilize the substations.
The motivation for some of these attacks remains unclear. Are these lone-wolf events, or are they coordinated and carried out by extremist groups? Are some of the attacks copycat crimes? A swift, unified response is underway across government and the industry to find answers.
Securing and protecting Central Electric Cooperative’s electric grid is a priority. The co-op’s 5,300 square miles of service territory and its 24 substations make physical security more challenging.
The federal Bonneville Power Administration’s infrastructure, which delivers power to the co-op and other
utilities in Central Oregon, poses another layer of physical security challenges.
An attack on BPA or CEC infrastructure could cause thousands to go without electricity, disrupting households and businesses and putting communities and those lives dependent on electronic medical
devices at risk.
Since the outbreak of attacks, BPA has intensified its security state, leading its security officers and field staff to increase patrolling of its facilities.
CEC also continually monitors, evaluates and prepares for threats to the grid. We have long-standing layers of security in place across our system to help protect critical infrastructure from human threats. Those efforts are routinely assessed and improved upon where and when possible.
Fortunately, we are not alone in this endeavor. Collaboration is an essential tool. CEC and other electric co-ops work alongside industry partners, government agencies, law enforcement and local officials to share information on how to strengthen the physical security of the electric grid and build greater awareness about potential threats.
As the investigations of the recent incidents evolve and we learn more, we will adjust our preparedness plans and apply appropriate modifications.
You, too, can help. We are asking the general public to remain aware when in the vicinity of electrical infrastructure—such as substations—and report anyone or activities that look suspicious or unusual.
Not every attack is preventable, but CEC remains committed to employing all available resources to reduce risk and protect the grid.