Analyzing power grid safety after substation attack in Moore County

“This is a very unusual situation,”
Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 9:08 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - For years, experts have been warning of cyberattacks taking down the power grid, but the type of attack in Moore County is different.

Law enforcement said someone, or a group of people, intentionally shot into substations in Moore County Saturday, knocking out power to 40,000 to 45,000 customers.

Related: ‘This is a great challenge’: Tens of thousands without power after shootings at NC substations

Duke Energy said disruptions of this magnitude are extremely rare but minor incidents happen daily at substations. Days after the incident in Moore County, Duke Energy stepped up security at critical points on the power grid.

“This is a very unusual situation,” said Logan Kureczka, a Duke Energy spokesperson.

For years, experts have been warning of cyber-attacks taking down the power grid, but the type of attack in Moore County is different.

The intentional shooting of two power substations in Moore County is highlighting a concern for the safety of our electrical grid.

“Duke Energy takes our responsibility to protect the power grid very seriously honestly. We have a team of highly skilled professionals, and they monitor and respond to threats really around the clock and these teams are working right now to stay ahead of potential threats in the future,” Kureczka said.

Members of the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC Charlotte say electrical disruptions happen all the time, but not on this scale.

The last known incident was in 2013 when a Metcalf, California substation was attacked by a sniper. Michael Mazzola, the executive director of EPIC, said the 2013 attack brought about changes that have likely prevented more incidents from happening.

Related: Outages could last days after shootings at substations

“Substation vandalism is unfortunately very common, but usually the motivation is burglary or theft of material so there’s not really an intention to attack the system and cause an outage,” Mazzola said.

Duke Energy tells WBTV substations are generally protected by fencing, cameras, and personnel monitoring them around the clock, but security looks different for each location.

Mazzola said it can be difficult to prevent an incident at a substation if someone is determined.

“Most of these substations are in remote locations and you can’t have physical security around them the way you may have, let’s say a large electric-generated plant,” he said.

After the attack in Moore County, Duke Energy is now sharing a message like one we typically hear from law enforcement.

“I think it’s important that the community also take a role in preventing some of these things, so if you see anything suspicious, a vehicle that’s not a Duke Energy car or truck near a substation, I think you can call your local law enforcement or 911. Really an informed public that reports suspicious behavior is going to be the most powerful defense to prevent things from like this happening,” said Kureczka.

Once power is restored in Moore County, Duke Energy will analyze ways to prevent this from happening again.

Duke Energy estimates power will be restored to customers in Moore County by Thursday.