Protecting Critical Infrastructure Amid Recent Substation Attacks
In the last six weeks, five electrical substations – in North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, and Oregon – have been attacked, leaving tens of thousands of people without power.
As one of the cornerstones of modern society, power infrastructure plays a critical role in delivering electricity to the vast majority of Americans. However, significant parts of this infrastructure, particularly electrical substations, are vulnerable to unsophisticated attacks that can easily be carried out by a single person.
Electrical substations are easy targets for bad actors. Comprised of transformers that either prepare electricity for long-range travel through high-voltage lines or reduce voltages for local consumption, they are generally located in rural areas, fenced off, and monitored by video surveillance without on-site manned security.
This is not the first-time bad actors carried out attacks on these critical infrastructure sites. In 2013, fiber-optic telecommunications equipment was severed near a California substation, after which gunmen fired over a hundred rounds into 17 transformers, causing more than $15 million in damage. It took utility workers 27 days to bring the substation back online, and ultimately no perpetrators were ever caught.
Although electrical operators are continually working on building redundancy and security into our electrical infrastructure, the fact remains that if a relatively small percentage of the nation’s 2,000+ high-power transformers are taken offline all at once, most of the country could lose power for weeks, if not months.
This is not something state governments can take lightly. ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force has a model policy, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which prescribes criminal penalties for organizations conspiring with persons who willfully trespass and/or damage critical infrastructure sites. While some have leveled false claims against ALEC, accusing our organization of using this model to infringe upon free speech – this couldn’t be further from the truth. Additionally, the model policy is written to hold conspiring organizations responsible for any damages to personal or real property while trespassing.