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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

USA: Vulnerable to Energy Terrorism

The USA produces the most energy on Earth, surpassing even Saudi Arabia and Russia now. But, in terms of energy infrastructure, the electrical system which Thomas Edison built was never intended to keep going this long.

On Tuesday, a metal part fell off an electrical transformer, knocking out power to Washington, DC. As the Washington Post describes it:

A dozen people were trapped in stalled elevators, passengers were left searching for exits in darkened underground Metro stations, and a building full of Department of Energy employees and the main campus of the University of Maryland closed their doors. Thousands of visitors at Smithsonian museums on the Mall had to leave for hours. While the outage caused little more than a blip for many others, it took most of the afternoon to fully restore electricity.
The outage immediately caught the attention of national security officials, who have heightened their scrutiny of vulnerabilities of the U.S. electricity grid after recent reports that nations such as China and Iran have infiltrated U.S. power company networks.
Homeland security officials concluded Tuesday that terrorism had played no part in an outage that was quickly blamed on the failure of a simple piece of transmission equipment in southern Maryland.
Energy experts cast Tuesday's event as a mundane occurrence that happens daily on a small scale.
Rarely, and memorably, it occurs on a larger scale, said Michael J. Assante, an electric power industry expert and director at the SANS Institute, a cybersecurity training organization. One example: the 2003 power outage in the Northeast that resulted in 50 million people losing electricity for up to two days — the biggest blackout in North American history.
It's definitely a wakeup call to terrorists about just how vulnerable the USA is to minor outages. A concerted effort to simultaneously create these outages will likely be coming in the future and will be far more serious than Tuesday's accidental outage.