Terrorist gunman could bring down the grid, warns FERC's Wellinghoff


By: SGN Staff

Quick Take: Yes, I know we need to take cybersecurity more seriously. Yet the grid's greatest threat, many believe, is physical security. Just a few well-placed bullets could bring down large sections of the grid and cause billions in damage.  I've been hearing these concerns for years from friends who've served on various government task forces. Now FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff is joining the chorus, as reported in Bloomberg Businessweek. His opinions are buttressed by a report from the National Academy of Sciences that was declassified recently. It claims a terrorist attack on the electric system could cost hundreds of billions of dollars and cause thousands of deaths. As Wellinghoff put it, an attacker could "get 200 yards away with a .22 rifle and take the whole thing out."  Perhaps our best approach is to assume that disasters will occur, whether natural or man-made. And to build our systems so they are "modular" and resilient. What's your recipe? Please use the comment form. - Jesse Berst


FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff shared his very serious concerns about the physical security of the electric grid after the release last week of a declassified report by the National Academy of Sciences. 


Speaking at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington, D.C., Wellinghoff said "There are ways that a very few number of actors with very rudimentary equipment could take down large portions of the grid. I don't think we have the level of physical security we need."


He added that the security of grid components such as transformers "is an equal if not greater issue" than cybersecurity." Those critical devices, he said, are frequently built to order for utilities and can take from 18 to 36 months to build. And they are far from adequately protected, some with as little defense as a chain link fence.


The National Academy 2007 report said the government should collaborate with utilities to build a stockpile of transformers and other equipment to have them on hand if needed in an emergency.


Wellinghoff said his agency does not have the authority to mandate grid protection measures for utilities but he would like to see an agency, not necessarily his, be given the authority to move quickly against possible threats.


FERC created an Office of Energy Infrastructure Security in September to find ways to reduce the risk of both cyber and physical threats to the grid and oil and natural gas facilities. That office will work with other agencies and the private sector.


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