Federal agency orders study of security at power stations

Infrastructure

(NewsNation) — Federal energy regulators on Thursday ordered a study to determine whether current physical security standards at U.S. power stations need to be improved in light of recent attacks.

The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) comes less than two weeks after two substations in Moore County, North Carolina, were damaged by targeted gunfire. The attack knocked out power for more than 40,000 Duke Energy customers.

“In light of the increasing number of recent reports of physical attacks on our nation’s infrastructure, it is important that we fully and clearly review the effectiveness of our existing physical security standard to determine whether additional improvements are necessary to safeguard the Bulk Power System,” FERC Chairman Richard Glick said in a statement.

Now, the regulatory agency will consider whether security measures like high-definition surveillance cameras should be made mandatory.

Today’s order gives the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a regulatory organization, 120 days to submit a report with its findings.

Critics have called the current standards, which FERC approved back in 2014, vague and outdated.

In an interview Thursday, the top security official at the Department of Energy (DOE), Puesh Kumar, told NewsNation there has been a spike in suspicious incidents and attacks — like the one in North Carolina earlier this month — targeting the power grid.

Kumar said federal officials will use the lessons learned in the department’s review of the incidents to better protect the system going forward.

“We provide physical security training and resources to the utilities out there,” said Kumar. “We want to make sure that we can evolve that training based on where the risk is headed.”

A NewsNation review of DOE data revealed an alarming increase in the number of reported incidents across four categories: physical attacks, sabotage, vandalism and suspicious actions.

Through August 2022, NewsNation counted 104 such incidents reported to DOE this year, which is double the number over the same time period in 2021.

In addition to the Duke Energy attack in North Carolina, NewsNation has been tracking substation incidents in Florida and the Pacific Northwest.

Earlier this month, NewsNation obtained an internal memo that showed federal authorities were on high alert after a suspected white supremacist shared the location information of more than 70,000 power stations in an online chat back in August.

It’s unclear if any of the attacks in recent months are related to the post.

NewsNation asked Kumar whether he considers the online post to be an act of domestic terrorism.

“When we look at risks to critical infrastructure, they really do come in a lot of different forms, including potential acts by domestic extremists,” said Kumar.

The biggest concern is attacks on facilities where losing power could turn deadly.

“We want to make sure that power is available to communities, to hospitals, and really critical services that everyone’s reliant on,” said Kumar. “We need to harden the grid. We need to do that through everything we’re doing.”

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