WASHINGTON – The April 2013 sniper attack on 17 transformers at a San Jose, Calif., electrical substation has prompted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order utilities to come up with standards to provide physical security for their vulnerable bulk power systems.
“Because the grid is so critical to all aspects of our society and economy, protecting its reliability and resilience is a core responsibility of everyone who works in the electric industry,” said acting FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur.
She said that the order will enhance the grid’s resilience by requiring physical security for the facilities most critical to the reliable operation of the bulk-power system.
Under the FERC order, the facilities must take at least three steps to provide physical security.
Owners and operators will need to perform a risk assessment of their system to identify facilities which, if damaged or inoperable, could have a critical impact on the operations of the interconnection through instability, uncontrolled separation or cascading failures of the bulk-power system.
They also must evaluate potential threats and vulnerabilities to the failures.
In addition, utility owners and operators must develop and implement security plans to address potential threats and vulnerabilities.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, which is the utilities’ association, has 90 days to submit the proposed standards.
LaFleur directed FERC staff to work with NERC to determine mandatory reliability standards to protect the physical security of critical facilities.
The directive apparently does not include provisions for the utilities to harden facilities to resist natural or man-made electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, attacks on the grid, although provisions could be made to include EMP events.
The call for the mandatory standards on the private utilities follows initial WND revelations of the April 2013 attack.
Then, in February, former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff revealed that the San Jose attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” and opined that it was a “dress rehearsal to a larger terrorist attack.”
The attack included a professional cutting of 911 fiber optic lines and then shooting more than 100 AK-47 7.62 rounds into some 17 transformers of a PG&E Metcalf substation in San Jose.
The idea apparently was to cause cooling oil to leak out and force the transformers to overheat and shut down if not burn up altogether. Depending on their size, larger transformers are imported and are specially designed, which means they are not easily replaced. Some take up to three years to swap out under normal circumstances.
The attack took place a day after the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombing by suspects from the Russian North Caucasus, which prompted federal investigators to get involved.
There is a large community of Chechen and North Caucasus immigrants in the San Jose area.
Chechens and North Caucasus fighters have been in the news recently due to ongoing terrorist attacks taking place in southern Russia. These attacks also had raised concerns over the safety of athletes and spectators who had traveled to the region where the 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia. During the Olympics, no attack occurred.
At the time of the sniper shots, the Federal Bureau of Investigation thought the Boston Marathon and the San Jose episodes could be linked, since the attack at the time was described as “military style.”
Then the FBI said it still was investigating the episode but didn’t believe it was a terrorist act.
The still unsolved sniper attack also has been followed by a new report from the New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center that electric grids across the country have faced unauthorized intrusions, making the U.S. grid “inherently vulnerable” to widespread sabotage.
The report said that there had been eight reports of intrusions at electrical grids just in New Jersey from October 2013 to January 2014.
The report said that such attacks could knock out power over widespread geographical areas of the country.
There is speculation that the incidents outlined in the NJROIC report may be a prelude to a large, coordinated physical attack on the grid.
The report also pointed out that very sensitive areas of the electrical grid were found to be lightly monitored, leaving them vulnerable to attack.
“The electrical grid – a network of power generating plants, transmission lines, substations, and distribution lines – is inherently vulnerable,” the report said.
“Transmission substations are critical links in the electrical grid, making it possible for electricity to move long distances and serving as hubs for intersecting power lines,” according to the report. “Many of the grid’s important components sit out in the open, often in remote locations, protected by little more than cameras and chain-link fences.”