Surviving massive power grid failure – Part 1: Physical Attack on Large Power Transformers
A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me a video that predicted Russia would blast the United States before 1 January 2017 to prevent President Trump from assuming office. At the end of the video, of course, they had a book that they recommended that I buy. Since I was watching the video in mid-January, I was non-plussed to make a purchase but the video content got me thinking as it seemed that an EMP attack was not very sophisticated to undertake and would have devastating impact on our country. I remembered that Ted Koppel just released a book called "Lights Out" on the subject and so I surfed over to Amazon and picked up the Kindle version.
Now Ted Koppel is not my favorite journalist, but as I read through his book, it was obvious that he had done his homework. In 2008 Congress commissioned a report on the effects of an EMP blast on key infrastructure in the states and the findings are alarming. You can find a copy of the report here http://www.empcommission.org/ (I recommend just going through the executive summary).
Some of you might recall a story in April 2013 of a PG+E Transformer Substation being attacked by small arms (rifles) near Metcalf, CA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalf_sniper_attack and https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304851104579359141941621778 In a matter of minutes, the transformers had been critically damaged (penetration of multiple rounds into the casing allowed the cooling oil to leak out and the transformer overheated).
A couple of troubling things about this incident:
► The attack was well planned – surveillance cameras were disabled first, then the attackers had more time to conduct their attack. There was evidence that firing positions were pre-planned and marked to get the best shots and they covered their tracks well, even the spent cartridge casings had no fingerprints on them.
► $15 million dollars worth of damage from a simple attack that took less than an hour to execute (estimated that all rounds were expended in less than 20 minutes).
► The damage took nearly a month to repair.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman admitted in 2014 that this was an Act of Terrorism.
According to Ted Koppel’s book, disabling several strategically placed transformers could cause a massive power outage across the country. According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article – that number is nine. https://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304020104579433670284061220 Another source says the number is thirty http://www.utilitydive.com/news/could-terrorists-really-black-out-the-power-grid/241192/ The fact is that it is a very small number….
And now I am frankly appalled at how vulnerable our entire way of life can be dramatically changed by a couple of guerilla attack teams and some rifles.
Each Large Power Transformer is a custom built piece of machinery that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and takes six months to a year to manufacture. They are difficult to transport requiring special equipment and planning. Generally speaking, the United States no longer produces these machines so they would have to be imported (from China). And since they are so expensive, the power industry doesn’t keep a bunch of spares on hand.
While there are no public figures, it is estimated that there are tens of thousands of these pieces of equipment throughout the country (I saw one source that said 55,000). And since the power grid interlocks, a small problem can cause a cascade of power outages over a much larger area. If there is a problem in one area, the power companies try to re-route power to prevent an outage. However, if the problem is severe, they trip the relays in an attempt to protect the power generation plants.
So if you care to look through some history about large power failures, there is a list on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_major_power_outages#2010.E2.80.932016).
Here are some US highlights:
► 9 Nov 1965: A relay switch failed and the resulting power outage left millions without power across seven states for up to 13 hours (this event was actually the opening scene of James Burke’s Connections Season 1, which I highly recommend to all prepper minded folks).
► 1992: Hurricane Andrew downed 17 miles of power lines.
► 1996 July: 2 million people in Mexico, the US, and Canada were without power when power lines overheated.
► 1996 August: The Western Intertie buckled under the high summer heat and left 4 million people in nine states and parts of Mexico without power for up to four days.
► 1998 January: North American Ice Storm over 3.5 million people lost power, some for over three weeks.
► 14 August 2003: A software bug resulted in power lines overheating and caused an outage affecting 55 million people for several days.
► 2005 August: Hurricane Katrina knocked out power to millions on the Gulf Coast.
► 2011 October: Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to 8 million in the NE United States.
Plenty of weather related power outages but all of these events have been relatively local. I was personally involved in the Katrina response and utility trucks from power companies all over the country rolled into the affected area to repair lines and restore power. But what happens if all areas are affected and you can’t bring assets from outside the region to restore power? While considering the Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act in April 2010, a letter to the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce noted:
“Virtually all of our civilian critical infrastructure to include telecommunications, water, sanitation, transportation, and healthcare depends on the electric grid. The grid is extremely vulnerable to disruption by a cyber or other attack. Our adversaries already have the capability to carry out such an attack. The consequences of a large-scale attack on the U.S. grid would be catastrophic for our national security and economy.” “Under current conditions, timely reconstitution of the grid following a carefully targeted attack if particular equipment is destroyed would be impossible; and according to government experts, would result in widespread outages for at least months to two years or more, depending on the nature of the attack.” [Emphasis added - Koppel, Ted. Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath (p. 16). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition].
While any good prepper is prepared to heat his/her shelter and cook his/her food off-the-grid, they are saying power could be out for TWO YEARS OR MORE. And with essentially every other sector of the economy dependent on the power grid: Translation –you need to start planning for how you would live off the grid permanently.
And this is only one of the vulnerabilities of the power grid. More to follow in my next article.
De Oppresso Liber