Substation security and the Garkane shooting

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

As the U.S. strengthens protections for its electricity grid, much of the discussion focuses on cybersecurity -- but physical security is also important, as shown by an attack on a Utah utility's substation.  On September 25, an unknown gunman fired at least 3 shots into a distribution system substation, damaging a transformer and causing power outages.  The incident may place renewed pressure on utilities to secure their infrastructure against vandalism and terrorism.

As reported by the Deseret News, the damage occurred at a substation owned by Garkane Energy Cooperative.  An assailant reportedly shot the main transformer's oil-cooled radiator system, causing the transformer to overheat and fail.  About 13,000 customers lost power across most of Kane and Garfield counties.  A spokesman for the cooperative said damage to the transformer could reach $1 million; repairs could take 6 to 12 months.  The utility has offered an unusually high reward -- $50,000 -- for information leading to the arrest of the shooter.

This is not the first time someone has used firearms to damage utility infrastructure.  Some incidents, such as the 2012 shotgunning of 167 insulating discs on Vermont's transmission system, may be considered vandalism.  Others, like the 2013 sniper shooting of a PG&E substation in San Jose, California, are considered terrorism.  That attack led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to implement new physical security protections for utility infrastructure known as CIP-014, through its Order No. 802.

The Garkane incident remains under investigation.  More broadly, it may strengthen calls for further hardening of the utility system against physical attack.  Meanwhile, efforts continue to strengthen cybersecurity protections for the grid.

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