Electrical grid attacks are a national cause for concern

The Department of Homeland Security released a national bulletin indicating that the vulnerabilities in the United States’ power grid as well as its “interdependency with other infrastructure sectors” make it an appealing target for domestic terrorist attacks.

Recent substation attacks in North Carolina, Washington, and Oregon have drawn attention to vulnerabilities in our infrastructure. The implications are dire and should not be brushed aside.

On Dec.25, 2022, four electrical substations were intentionally damaged, cutting power to thousands of homes in Pierce County. A federal investigation led to the arrest of two Puyallup residents, Matthew Greenwood, 32, and Jeremy Crahan, 40. As of Jan. 3, 2022, they have been charged with possession of an unregistered firearm and conspiracy to damage energy facilities.

Earlier in December, unknown assailants shot up two North Carolina substations, leaving thousands of rural residents without electricity, including the Moore County Regional Hospital. The lack of power combined with freezing weather triggered the announcement of a county-wide state of emergency. The investigation is ongoing.

On Thanksgiving morning of November 2022, an unnamed person was charged with using a firearm to intentionally damage a hydropower substation in Clackamas, Oregon.

Puget Sound Energy and Cowlitz County Public Utility District have also publicly confirmed there were attacks on their substations in November 2022. 

But why is this happening?

An intelligence briefing obtained by CNN from the Department of Homeland Security stated that since 2020, there have been several highly credible and specific plans to attack the American electrical grid. These plans were by white supremacist and anti-government extremist organizations. Messages and video manifestos call for ‘lone-wolf’ style attacks that do not require any technical knowledge (such as using firearms, bolt cutters, or hammers to damage the equipment). The purported aim of attacks such as these would be to incite riots or sufficient chaos that would temporarily disable law and order in a given area.

Cutting power to residents does more than inconvenience people. For individuals that rely on oxygen, electrical medical devices or have medications that require refrigeration, power cuts can be deadly. Many rural areas have pump-based septic and water systems: without a working pump, a power outage quickly turns to a water shortage. In the absence of electricity, extreme weather patterns induced by climate change such as blizzards and heat waves can harm thousands. Even car accidents are more likely in a power outage due to non-functional traffic signals. Intentionally damaging the power grid is a violent act towards others and should be prosecuted as such. There is a chance that these types of attacks could increase in frequency and even intensity.

This doesn’t mean we should panic. However, it does mean we should be prepared to take care of ourselves and our community. Make sure you have shelf-stable food and water for 48 hours for your own household. In addition to this, consider the needs of your neighborhood: in the event of a power outage, elderly residents and families with young children may need extra help. Local law enforcement and federal agencies can only do so much – protecting your community starts at home. And of course, if you see something, say something.