Is The Power Grid America's Greatest Vulnerability?

Is The Power Grid America's Greatest Vulnerability?

The power grid in the United States has been a main topic of discussion for many years. It is crucial to our everyday lives, but it also provides an easy way to disable the country. There have been cases where terrorists have disrupted power grids with just a few steps and without much equipment. This article will provide information on why the grid should be taken seriously as well as what you should do to protect yourself and your family in the event of an attack.

The American Power Grid Is at Risk

It is in the best interest of Americans to take this seriously. The American Power Grid system has been put at risk by natural disasters such as hurricanes which could cause blackouts if they strike near power plants or oil refineries; terrorist attacks and even cyber-attacks from unknown sources can do serious damage when there's no warning sign beforehand.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, America’s energy dependence “augments the threat of a catastrophic power failure given that even temporary or minor failures interrupt critical economic, communication, and security systems.”

The Department of Energy released a report which stated, “An advanced threat actor with the appropriate attack vector will get in regardless of what defenses are in place.” The report goes on to say, “…there is no mitigating effort that can be 100% effective. A defense mechanism that works today may not be effective tomorrow – the ways and means of cyber attacks constantly change.” In other words, the electric grid that supplies us with the power and energy to continue functioning in the essential activities of our day to day lives will always be at high risk.

The Power Grid Has Been Attacked Before

When most people think about attacks targeting our electrical supply, they think about cyber-attacks, which are a significant threat and will be discussed later. But most are surprised to learn that the grid has suffered physical attacks in the past.

On April 16, 2013, a small team of approximately 3-5 individuals targeted the Metcalf substation run by PG&E just outside of San Jose, California. The attackers, using rifles, fired on and damaged 17 transformers.

The attack was carried out with a high level of sophistication that indicated in-depth knowledge of the substation and prior military training. Minutes before the attack, a series of underground fiber-optic cables were cut which disrupted the substations communications. There were no fingerprints found on any of the shell casings and small rock piles were discovered near the firing positions, indicating that the attackers had scouted the location prior to the attack. Also, the Metcalf substation is situated between two main roads with limited ingress and egress routes. Despite this, no security cameras had any footage of the gunmen.

The attackers have not been apprehended and the FBI still has no suspects or possible motive.

Whoever was behind the attack and whatever their motivations were, the fact remains that little to nothing has been done since then to increase the physical security of our substations.

Why The Power Grid Is So Vulnerable to Attack

The power grid is vulnerable to attack for a few reasons. First, most of the electric transmission lines are not buried underground and this makes them easy targets for saboteurs. Second, many of these lines cross rural areas which is also where they're most susceptible to natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Thirdly, the power grid is so vulnerable to attack because it was designed with no redundancy

There Are Several Ways That an Attack On The Power Grid Could Happen

Physical Attacks

The grid can suffer physical attacks ranging from highly trained terrorist organizations to disgruntled employees and lower-level vandals. Attacks can vary in sophistication and motives can range from eco-terrorism to foreign government assets seeking to destabilize the country.


The Department of Energy stated in a 2016 report that, “With utilities in the U.S. and around the world increasingly moving toward smart grid technology and other upgrades with inherent cyber vulnerabilities, correlative threats from malicious cyber attacks on the North American electric grid continue to grow in frequency and sophistication.” Cyber-attacks targeting our electric grid would cripple our food supply chains, medical services, financial systems, and effectively bring our society to a grinding halt.

Natural Disasters

Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, snow and ice storms, and any other natural disasters are notorious for causing major power outages. Many of these events can happen suddenly and with almost no warning.

Electromagnetic Pulse

The electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) covers a wide range of activity, from visible light and lasers to microwaves. It manifests through varied frequencies or wavelengths produced by natural sources like solar storms or artificially-born hardware such as radar or nuclear weapons.

According to the Electromagnetic Defense Task Force (a group tasked by the U.S. Air Force to study warfare on the electromagnetic spectrum) “…power grids, telecommunications, and many command-and-control systems have not been designed to survive a hostile EMS environment. Once damaged by natural phenomena such as GMD (geomagnetic disturbance) or human induced phenomena such as EMP (electromagnetic pulse) and HEMP (high altitude electromagnetic pulse – caused by a nuclear explosion), it may take months to years to recover networks and other vital functions to their original state.”

What To Do If the Power Goes Out

Here are a few tips on what to do in the event of a major power outage:

  • Keep freezers and refrigerators closed.
  • Use a generator, but ONLY outdoors and away from windows.
  • Do not use a gas stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges.
  • Have alternate plans for refrigerating medicines or using power-dependent medical devices.
  • Check with local officials about heating and cooling locations open near you.

Take an inventory of the items you need that rely on electricity. Plan for batteries and other alternative power sources to meet your needs when the power goes out, such as a portable charger or power bank. Have flashlights for every household member.

Talk to your medical provider about a power outage plan for medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.


The power grid is at risk. Considering the threats posed and the lack of defenses in place to protect it, there is a strong case that our power supply is our most critical vulnerability. The grid has been attacked before, and it can be attacked again. We don't know what will happen if there's a massive attack on our electric company or one of its substations--we may not even notice it happening until the lights go out in every city across America for days or weeks at a time. How do we protect ourselves? Stock up! Buy emergency supplies now while you still have access to them so that when an attack happens, you'll be prepared with food, water, batteries and other necessities.

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