What if I told you that last April there was an attack on an electrical power station in California? What if I told you this attack involved multiple people and it appeared very coordinated? What if this attack lasted close to one hour – and the attackers disappeared into the night just before law enforcement appeared? What if I told you the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S. ?
You probably wouldn’t believe me and I wouldn’t blame you. After all – at least up until now this has not been in any news. But here is the deal – it did happen.
The Wall Street Journal broke this story, which can be read HERE. Here are a few excerpts:
The attack began just before 1 a.m. on April 16 last year, when someone slipped into an underground vault not far from a busy freeway and cut telephone cables.
Within half an hour, snipers opened fire on a nearby electrical substation. Shooting for 19 minutes, they surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley. A minute before a police car arrived, the shooters disappeared into the night.
The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S., said Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time.
The Wall Street Journal assembled a chronology of the Metcalf attack from filings PG&E made to state and federal regulators; from other documents including a video released by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department; and from interviews, including with Mr. Wellinghoff.
At 12:58 a.m., AT&T fiber-optic telecommunications cables were cut—in a way that made them hard to repair—in an underground vault near the substation, not far from U.S. Highway 101 just outside south San Jose. It would have taken more than one person to lift the metal vault cover, said people who visited the site.
At 1:31 a.m., a surveillance camera pointed along a chain-link fence around the substation recorded a streak of light that investigators from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office think was a signal from a waved flashlight. It was followed by the muzzle flash of rifles and sparks from bullets hitting the fence.
The substation’s cameras weren’t aimed outside its perimeter, where the attackers were. They shooters appear to have aimed at the transformers’ oil-filled cooling systems. These began to bleed oil, but didn’t explode, as the transformers probably would have done if hit in other areas.
About six minutes after the shooting started, PG&E confirms, it got an alarm from motion sensors at the substation, possibly from bullets grazing the fence, which is shown on video.
Four minutes later, at 1:41 a.m., the sheriff’s department received a 911 call about gunfire, sent by an engineer at a nearby power plant that still had phone service.
Riddled with bullet holes, the transformers leaked 52,000 gallons of oil, then overheated. The first bank of them crashed at 1:45 a.m., at which time PG&E’s control center about 90 miles north received an equipment-failure alarm.
Five minutes later, another apparent flashlight signal, caught on film, marked the end of the attack. More than 100 shell casings of the sort ejected by AK-47s were later found at the site.
At 1:51 a.m., law-enforcement officers arrived, but found everything quiet. Unable to get past the locked fence and seeing nothing suspicious, they left.
Could this have just been a test run for multiple targets or possibly a larger target(can you say “nuclear”)? Could it be a group of buddies drank a bit too much and were upset at the size of their electric bill and decided to shoot up the station and cut some cables? I somehow doubt that one.
What this shows is the venerability of at least some parts of our electrical grid. In this example power was able to be routed around the damaged equipment and customers did not lose power. What if there had been multiple strikes?
Lots of questions and not too many answers.
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