US Power Grid Vulnerable To "Devastating" Attack, NERC Finds

Just as tensions between the US and North Korea are finally beginning to cool (while animosity between the US and Russia intensifies), a recent industry report argues the US government isn't doing nearly enough to safeguard the US electric grid from a potentially devastating attack.

In its report, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) revealed that much of the US electricity grid is vulnerable to attack - and neither the industry or the government are doing anything about it. NERC is the organization responsible for overseeing the US's massive electric grid, which is subdivided into eight regional entities.

Though the report didn't include a "comprehensive" assessment of the myriad physical threats to the US's energy infrastructure, worries that North Korean could execute a massive electromagnetic pulse (or EMP) attack have been intensifying as the prospect of a nuclear showdown with the restive communist state looms large (Kim Jong Un's recent actions aside). The research was also inspired by a series of gun attacks on transformers, including a rifle attack on a transformer in Utah that occurred in September 2016, according to the Washington Free Beacon.


Many organizations, including recently the National Academy of Sciences, have warned of the catastrophic consequences should a malicious actor - be it a state or a terrorist organization - manage to take down the US energy grid.

"There is widespread belief that bulk power critical assets are vulnerable to physical attack, that such an attack potentially could have catastrophic consequences, and that the risks of such attacks are growing," according to the report. "But the exact nature of such potential attacks and the capability of perpetrators to successfully execute them are uncertain."

"Although the electric power sector seems to be moving in the overall direction of greater physical security for critical assets, many measures have yet to be implemented and the process of corporate realignment around physical security is still underway," according to the report, which omitted a comprehensive overview of all the pressing threats due to national security concerns.

"The September 2016 rifle attack on a 69 kV transformer substation in Utah—which reportedly left 13,000 rural customers without power for up to eight hours—showed that similar incidents could occur almost anywhere on the grid," the report warns.

To be sure, the Edison Electric Institute has highlighted the fact that it would be nearly impossible to completely secure the grid (the costs would be immeasurable). However, the US could be doing a lot more than it's doing.


A massive attack on the US energy grid could leave large swaths of the country without power without weeks or months. The end result would resemble Puerto Rico following last year's devastating hurricane season - but on a much larger and deadlier scale.

In this scenario, hundreds of thousands - if not millions of Americans - could die.

"While to date there have been only minor attacks on the power system in the United States, large-scale physical destruction of key parts of the power system by terrorists is a real danger," the academy warned. "Some physical attacks could cause disruption in system operations that last for weeks or months."

But unfortunately for the US citizens whose security is predicated on a functioning power grid, the power industry and US government have failed to organize a cohesive response to these threats. Because of the industry's utter lack of preparation, even crude attacks could have devastating consequences.

And while this month's volatility in equity markets was deeply unsettling for millions of Americans, imagine what would happen to markets if the entire Atlantic seaboard lost power in an instant.


DanDaley Sat, 03/31/2018 - 17:04 Permalink

Worrying about the "markets" would be the least of your troubles. An EMP would be such a tremendous use of leverage, you have to wonder why somebody hasn't used it yet.

Stuck on Zero SafelyGraze Sat, 03/31/2018 - 20:44 Permalink

The grid gets hit with massive lightning super-bolts every day in the Summer and barely quivers. It's a lot more durable than one can imagine. Also, there's little evidence that nukes detonated at altitude would generate a strong EMP pulse. It's a bogeyman for more paranoia spending. Far more dangerous to the grid is plain old incompetence or sleet storms.

In reply to by SafelyGraze

HRH of Aquitaine 2.0 Stuck on Zero Sat, 03/31/2018 - 20:53 Permalink

Oh BS. Power was out in my area for 2.5 hours last night. Problem? Animal got into a transformer and blew it up! No storm. No bad weather. Friday night of a holiday weekend. It sucked! No wifi, no phone service, no internet. I had a book. But shutting down this area for that long on a Friday night? Local food places had to be pissed!

It was fun imagining all the hair pulling from the idiots that can't read and are addicted to the net and social media, though!

In reply to by Stuck on Zero

RabbiWood Shemp 4 Victory Sun, 04/01/2018 - 10:29 Permalink

Our power company told us that squirrels caused a major power outage we had here back in October.  Some people went for a week without power.  No, it was crazy winds over 100 mph.  It took down old power poles all over the place.  Truth is, they knew they were weak and didn't do any P.M.  then when 10 or so blew over, they didn't have enough spare poles in stock, so they had to order them.

Anytime the winds blows over 50 mph, get your flashlights out, power is gonna go out again.

In reply to by Shemp 4 Victory

land_of_the_few HRH of Aquitaine 2.0 Sun, 04/01/2018 - 02:30 Permalink

Not so. The actual weak spot is compulsively noising up Russia like a toddler needing Ritalin and getting bombed back to the Stone Age.

UK might want to have a little think about that too. Voevoda silos are *very* blast proof, and then there's all the mobile and sub stuff.

Still, the Gherkin will look great as a blasted-out skeletal monument to stupidity.

In reply to by HRH of Aquitaine 2.0

HRH of Aquitaine 2.0 any_mouse Sun, 04/01/2018 - 01:38 Permalink

My local power substation is surrounded with a chainlink fence. That's all. No screening. You can see though the fence and it's next to a busy road.

I remember reading the book, "One Second After." The EMP Commission was established 10 or 15 years ago. The grid hasn't been hardened for civilians because no one wanted to pay to harden it. Or maybe they didn't want it to be hardened.

In reply to by any_mouse

shortonoil Stan522 Sun, 04/01/2018 - 08:18 Permalink

It was explained to me 35 years ago by an engineer who manged, designed, and built power plants how he could take 30 men and shut down the US power grid permanently. If terrorism is as real as the PTB want us to believe; then why hasn't it happened?


Terrorism has been one of the PTB's more successful tools to keep the world in a constant state of fear, and war! The "terrorists" are not the ones to fear!

In reply to by Stan522