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Restoring Energy After an Attack

Restoring Energy After an Attack

A blog by President and CEO Sheryl Osiene-Riggs

Over the past year, the United States has experienced a staggering surge in attacks on power substations. Attacks are not unprecedented, but physical or pistol attacks are not the norm.  In all of 2021, the US experienced 97 attacks on substations—it only took 8 months in 2022 to see the same number of attacks.

Even without data for the latter half of 2022, we all know these attacks have continued at full force. Since August, we have seen multiple high-profile attacks, knocking out power to tens of thousands of people experiencing winter weather. In Washington State, 14,000 people were left without power on Christmas Day, leaving Christmas trees dark, dinners unmade, and gatherings on hold.  This month, there are reports that the FBI thwarted a plot to attack the Baltimore grid that would have crippled the city.

These outages were not due to natural disasters, but rather deliberate, malicious attacks on the power grid. Most of us don’t think this will happen to us until it does. In fact, most of us don’t think about the reliability of the power grid until we are forced to confront its fragility. Although we did without electricity for many years, most of us couldn’t live without it for very long. No electricity means no water, no food, no modern medicine, no access to distant family members, and no electronic communication.  The thought of the impact and devastation of these attacks makes one appreciate the important work that is being selflessly done throughout the energy sector.  Utility workers are facing more and more challenges as they work diligently to restore power. Like workforce shortages, regulatory red tape, inadequate funding, and lack of constructive collaboration.  I say thank you to utility workers every opportunity I get, and I encourage people to join them as public servants as they create a sustainable future for generations to come.

These are no longer isolated incidents. The Pacific Northwest region experienced half a dozen substation attacks in the weeks leading up to the Christmas shootings, keeping our utility workers, whom I think of as first responders, constantly running damage control. If this upward trend of attacks continues, the toll of these attacks will outpace utilities’ ability to manage the damage. We must collectively condemn violent attacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure and rally around the first responders working to keep the lights on, the gas flowing, and the water running. These efforts require dedicated people, innovative technology, global resource pooling, smart laws, and a thorough understanding of the impact that these attacks have on everyone on the planet.

While these attacks can be elaborate operations, others can be carried out by a lone individual. It is nothing short of alarming that just two armed men were able to disrupt and endanger the lives of thousands in Washington State, and we must consider even the smallest vulnerabilities.

UTC member Duke Energy was faced with a colossal challenge at the start of December when shooting attacks on several substations in North Carolina left over 40,000 people without power in the winter weather. Duke Energy showed extraordinary commitment to its customers, working around the clock to restore power. I commend their work and can only hope that our utilities can continue to respond to attacks as quickly. I commend the other utilities all around the nation that were on standby ready to deploy critical assistance.  Utilities demonstrate collaboration daily for disasters and development.

In these situations, time is of the essence. Every second lost can mean a life lost. Power is critical to most people’s everyday lives.  Both the cybersecurity and physical security of our substations should be a top priority.  As a nation, we are fighting a war on crime, drugs, disease, hunger, national security, inequity, and so much more.  These intentional attacks on our grids and substations are a declaration of war on humanity.  I DECLARE WAR on all these issues, and I am honored to be a warrior in the fight for good, personally and professionally.  UTC answers the call daily by advocating, educating, and emphasizing the importance of collaboration.  We serve all types of utilities, and we are celebrating 75 years of commitment to the industry, the future, and to you.  Join the dedicated UTC members, staff, and champions to win the fight.  Restoring energy after an attack is not just the title of the blog, it’s a call to action.  Thank you for answering the call!


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