- Three substations near Tacoma, Washington, were “vandalized” on Christmas Day, according to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. The intentional damage to equipment caused more than 14,000 outages on the Tacoma Power and Puget Sound Energy systems, but authorities say service has been restored to most customers.
- Few details about the attacks have been published. Tacoma Power said it had been warned earlier this month by federal law enforcement “of a security alert for the electrical grid.”
- The Department of Homeland Security in January said domestic terrorists had developed “credible, specific plans” to attack the U.S. power grid. Experts say substations are difficult to secure due to their often remote locations.
The weekend holiday attacks appear similar to other recent events.
Six substations in the Pacific Northwest were damaged by attacks in November, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into a North Carolina firearms attack earlier this month that knocked power out to about 45,000 Duke Energy customers.
Tacoma Power said two of its substations “were deliberately targeted with physical damage,” leaving about 7,000 customers without power.
“There is no danger to public safety, and we are working with federal and local law enforcement,” the utility said.
A fire was extinguished at a Puget Sound Energy substation. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department said “the suspect(s) gained access to the fenced area and vandalized the equipment which caused the fire. There are no suspects in custody at this time.”
Puget Sound Energy said it is “investigating a suspected incident of vandalism at one of our Pierce County substations. The incident remains under investigation, and we are coordinating with authorities.”
Substation vandalism is not uncommon, say security experts, but it is unusual for it to result in widespread outages.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this month ordered the North American Electric Reliability Corp. to determine whether physical security grid reliability standards should be strengthened.
“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.