Our power grid remains open to both physical and cyber-attacks

Just in case you were feeling a little too cheerful, what with the arrival of Spring and the failure of the Chinese space station to fall on your head and all, here’s a little something to keep you a bit more grounded. A new Congressional Research Service report indicates that despite decades of warnings being issued to the energy sector, our power grid is still far too vulnerable to attacks, posing the threat of massive power outages which could bring the country to its knees for weeks, months or even years. And, as Adam Kredo explains at the Free Beacon, we’re not even talking about high-tech terror attacks or massive hacking schemes. We’ve already been hit with scattered attacks which require little more than a single person with a rifle.

The U.S. electric grid has become increasingly vulnerable to what the federal government is describing as an unprecedented wave of attacks that threatens to cripple the nation, according to a new investigative report that warns the energy industry is lagging in efforts to boost physical security of these critical sites.

Amid a wave of increasing attacks across the country on key power stations, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, has been struggling to force the power industry to enact a series of security improvements meant to stop would-be attackers and terrorists from crippling the nation’s infrastructure.

Since 2014, “security risks to the power grid have become an even greater concern in the electric utility industry,” according to a new Congressional Research Service report that warns the power industry “has not necessarily reached the level of physical security needed based on the sector’s own assessments of risk.”

The two scenarios which could potentially send the whole country back into the dark ages for a while are a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) burst or a particularly well planned hacking effort. But as the report notes, there have been local attacks using rifles and small, improvised explosive charges at transformer substations which have cut out the power over specific areas for a significant number of hours. A more widespread, coordinated attack of even such a low-tech nature which takes out some of the huge, regional transformers could spell trouble for weeks or months. And most of these stations have limited security in place if they have any at all.

This is frustrating to many analysts because we’re not waiting for some new, Star Wars level technology to be developed. The technical ability to “smarten” up the grid and isolate outages already exists, but it’s expensive to put in place. The utilities don’t want to spend the money and the government either doesn’t have it or can’t dig that deeply into the private industry’s infrastructure. (Or both.) At the individual stations, it would take some resources to put in more effective shielding and defensive arrangements to thwart low-tech attacks, but it could clearly be done with enough effort. This could conceivably be one project which might be included in any proposed federal infrastructure package.

I realize it’s a bit of a dry topic and not as “exciting” as many other threats we face, but it needs to be addressed. We’ve identified a vulnerability which our enemies doubtless already know about and we have the capacity to largely mitigate the danger. Failing to do so shifts the blame at least partly onto us, not just the prospective terrorists.

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