The power grid may finally be getting the attention the vital and extremely fragile piece of infrastructure deserves. There have been no less than three attempts to destroy all of portions of the nation’s energy system in the past year. If the power grid fails due to a sniper attack, EMP, solar flare, or cyber hacking, America would become a much different and far more dangerous place.
A massive cyber security bill was recently introduced in the house just as the bulk of Americans were learning about two major attacks on the power grid. Both insurance companies and former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano consider cyber terrorism directed at the power grid as the most significant threats to life as we know it in America.
News of the California power station attack took nearly a year to make headlines and sink into public awareness. Even many of the folks who consider themselves very aware of issues and incidents which threaten our national security remained totally unaware that less than a week after the California power grid terrorism attack, a similar incident occurred at a Tennessee nuclear facility. A TVA Watts Bar Nuclear Plant security guard was involved in a 2am shootout with an armed suspect. The Spring City guard was unable to catch the gunman who had somehow gotten inside the nuclear plant.
A WBIR report on the possible terrorism attack read:
“TVA spokesperson Jim Hopson said the subject traveled up to the plant on a boat and walked onto the property. When the officer questioned the suspect, the individual fired multiple shots at the officer. The officer shot back, and when he called for backup, the suspect sped away on his boat.”
The timing and sophistication of the attacks has led many to believe that the Tennessee and California events were related, well-planned, and a dress rehearsal for things to come. The two possible terrorism attacks prompted enhanced discussion about America’s “soft targets” and how the vulnerable power grid could end life as we know it if destroyed either physically or in a high-tech cyber attack. California Congressman Henry Waxman deemed the power station sniper incident as an “unprecedented and sophisticated attack on an electric grid substation with military-style weapons.”
The entire plant had to be shut down to avert far-reaching power outages – it took two weeks to replace the 17 transformers snipers shot out during the attack. If the incident had occurred simultaneously at multiple power stations around the country, the economic impact could have been devastating. Assuming that either utility companies or the federal government has a big stash of space parts and transformers would be very foolish.
The Tennessee nuclear plant attack and the California power station shootout were both far more coordinated and orchestrated than the October 2013 incident at an Arkansas energy facility. As previously reported by Off The Grid News, Jason Woodring was arrested at his Jacksonville home by an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force after neighbors called police when an explosion occurred in Woodring’s backyard. The man confessed to engaging in three separate power line and substation attacks in the Little Rock area.
Cyber hacking could prove just as detrimental to the power grid as the sniper attack in California and the havoc the Tennessee gunman likely intended to unleash. As previously reported by Off The Grid News, the smart grid, smart meters, and electric car charging stations could serve as easy access points into the nation’s most overly taxed and vulnerable piece of infrastructure.
On February 11, cyber hackers exploited the weaknesses of the Network Time Protocol system crafted to sync computer and laptops clocks. Not knowing what time it is was not the downside of the successful hack. The cyber terrorists were able to send a “massive amount of data” to servers which could introduce “malicious attack” on online networks. Cloudfare CEO Matthew Prince said, “Someone’s got a big, new cannon and the attack is the start of ugly things to come,” on his Twitter account.
An excerpt from the cyber terrorism act reads:
“The cybersecurity threat to our nation is real, evolving and imminent. At a recent Congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey said that “we anticipate that in the future, resources devoted to cyber based threats will equal or even eclipse the resources devoted to non-cyber based terrorist threats.”
The National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (HR3696) is supposed to allow communications integration centers within the Department of Homeland Security to offer real time cyber threat information. Although the cyber terrorism bill received unanimous approval in the House of Representatives, it is not without its detractors outside of the Beltway. A growing number of Americans are concerned that the National Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act could open the door for more NSA spying on citizens.
IT news website GCN had this to say about the HR 3696:
“The emergence of complex, multistage exploits that quietly penetrate critical targets by leveraging vulnerabilities several links away from the target mean that it is difficult to be sure any system is effectively isolated. Because of this level of complexity and interconnectivity, it almost is impossible to find a system that might not be rated critical.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) graded the power grid last year and it barely passed the functionality test. The overall rating of our antiquated electrical system was a D+. Major power outages in the United States have grown from 76 in 2007 to 307 in 2011, according to the latest available statistics. The major outage figures do not take into account all of the smaller outages which routinely occur due to seasonal storms.
The American Society of Civil Engineers power grid grade card rating means the energy infrastructure is in “poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life.” It further means a “large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration” with a “strong risk of failure.”
The vulnerable state of the power grid gets very little play by mainstream media outlets. Concerns about a solar flare or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack instantly sending us back to an 1800s existence are legitimate, but it may not take such an extreme act to render the power grid a useless tangle of wires. The majority of the United States’ infrastructure and public systems evaluated by the ASCE earned a “D” rating. A “C” ranking (public parks, rail and bridges) was the highest grade earned. It would take a total of $3.6 trillion in investments by 2020 to fix everything, the report card stated. To put that number in perspective, the federal government’s budget for all of 2012 was slightly more, $3.7 trillion.
However, depending on the government to fix this issue is not your only recourse. You can take matters into your own hands by utilizing the one source of limitless energy that’s a constant…solar. There are a number of stand alone generators available out there and all they need is a little sunshine. They are easy to operate, relatively small, and can be purchased for basically the same price as a gas powered generator and is an essential tool in securing your electricity needs against a potential power grid meltdown.