In Moore County, North Carolina, citizens are experiencing first-hand the impacts of unexpected outages on the power grid – reminding us once again of just how integral uninterrupted electricity is to daily life. Though this part of the country typically experiences electrical grid impacts from hurricanes coming ashore and the damage left in the wake of severe storms, the current situation is completely different.
On Saturday, it was widely reported that two separate utility substations were significantly damaged by gunshots in what appears to be a deliberate attack on utility infrastructure. The result is more than 42,000 customers, without any warning, found themselves without power. As of Monday, there remain more than 33,000 customers without power according to the local utility, and due to the nature of the damage it could be Thursday before power is restored.
The facts of the situation and the reasons for the attack remain unclear and are sure to be more fully investigated in the coming days. History doesn’t repeat itself, though it does echo. In several ways this incident harkens back to the Metcalf substation incident in 2013, where a substation was fired upon by unidentified snipers.
Reliable Power Is the First Priority
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, this incident reminds us just how reliant on electricity and power virtually all aspects of American life have become. Due to the widespread outage, even cell phone towers were only intermittently operational, making communications, for those who had sufficient charge in their devices, difficult. Electric heat no longer functioned, hot water was not available, and the basic expectation of having functional lights was completely interrupted in an instant.
Providing safe and reliable power generation is the first priority of EPSA and our member companies. Utilities and power generators are always mindful of the need to protect their assets and ensure their continued operation as the public has become more and more reliant on them. This protection runs the gamut from extreme weather to cyber security – and as we are reminded of now, physical security of critical assets. Bad actors come in all forms – state actors, disgruntled employees or customers, thieves seeking to steal copper and other materials, and even kids doing a prank that can impact the system. It is imperative that all energy system owners and operators invest in the necessary equipment and practices that are most likely to protect all parts of the energy system from all types of attack.
How Consumers Can Prepare
However, no one can prevent intrusion 100% of the time, which means the public also needs to be thinking about how it prepares for and responds to these incidents. Customers do not need to adopt a “prepper mentality,” but should be vigilant and aware of their surroundings and take modest steps to be prepared for a power outage that could last a few hours to a few days.
We all agree that power should be as reliable as possible and the safe and undisturbed operation of the energy infrastructure is a critical step in making that happen. Utilities and power system asset owners must maintain their vigilance in safeguarding their assets and critical infrastructure and partner with relevant government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. Individual citizens owe it to themselves and their neighbors to be vigilant and aware of the circumstances in their local area to minimize opportunities for bad actors to wreak havoc in their communities.