Survival Preparations: The Electrical Grid Is Still Vulnerable

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 1 month ago

In September of 2010, I had some stark remarks about the American electrical grid.  Pay close attention, and learn just how stupid and stolid is your political leadership.

The most vulnerable structure, system or component for large scale coal plants is the main step up transformer – that component that handles electricity at 230 or 500 kV.  They are one of a kind components, and no two are exactly alike.  They are so huge and so heavy that they must be transported to the site via special designed rail cars intended only for them, and only about three of these exist in the U.S.

They are no longer fabricated in the U.S., much the same as other large scale steel fabrication.  It’s manufacture has primarily gone overseas.  These step up transformers must be ordered years in advance of their installation.  Some utilities are part of a consortium to keep one of these transformers available for multiple coal units, hoping that more will not be needed at any one time.  In industrial engineering terms, the warehouse min-max for these components is a fine line.

On any given day with the right timing, several well trained, dedicated, well armed fighters would be able to force their way on to utility property, fire missiles or lay explosives at the transformer, destroy it, and perhaps even go to the next given the security for coal plants.  Next in line along the transmission system are other important transformers, not as important as the main step up transformers, but still important, that would also be vulnerable to attack.  With the transmission system in chaos and completely isolated due to protective relaying, and with the coal units that supply the majority of the electricity to the nation incapable of providing that power for years due to the wait for step up transformers, whole cites, heavy industry, and homes and businesses would be left in the dark for a protracted period of time, all over the nation.

In March of 2013, in Surviving The Apocalypse: Thinking Strategically Rather Than Tactically, I remarked that “The first bloody corpse dragged from a home invasion by government forces hunting for firearms will be the occasion for some deep soul searching by millions of firearms owners across the country,” directly within the context of the electrical grid vulnerabilities.

I also cited Bob Owens’ piece in which he examined the vulnerabilities farther down the grid, and Bob remarked later that:

Some people seem appalled at the fact that the sort of attacks that American forces have used so successfully overseas (Iraq’s electrical grid is still in the process of recovering from two wars) might be used against American cities… and that is the exact point both Smith and I were trying to make. Neither of us are advocates of such attacks, as both of us probably have a better idea than the layman of the effect such attacks would have. I’d likely lose several people I love very much who have medical conditions were such an attack to affect this region. these aren’t things we want. these are things we fear.

Smith and I are pointing out the fact that if states or the federal government is willing to push citizens into a Second Revolutionary War over the natural right to self defense, they will feel the wrath of the right of revolution that is the birthright of ever American.

Well after my 2010 article, The New York Times stated (concerning the vulnerabilities):

By blowing up substations or transmission lines with explosives or by firing projectiles at them from a distance, the report said, terrorists could cause cascading failures and damage parts that would take months to repair or replace. In the meantime, it warned, people could die from the cold or the excessive heat, and the economy could suffer hundreds of billions of dollars in damage.

While the report is the most authoritative yet on the subject, the grid’s vulnerability has long been obvious to independent engineers and to the electric industry itself, which has intermittently tried, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, to rehearse responses.

Of particular concern are giant custom-built transformers that increase the voltage of electricity to levels suited for bulk transmission and then reduce voltage for distribution to customers. Very few of those transformers are manufactured in the United States, and replacing them can take many months.

Do tell.  Some two years after I pointed this out.  Now three years later, the federal government is figuring out that there may be a problem.

Power grid vulnerabilities are finally garnering some attention by government officials.

An electrical grid joint drill simulation is being planned in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Thousands of utility workers, FBI agents, anti-terrorism experts, governmental agencies, and more than 150 private businesses are involved in the November power grid drill.

The downed power grid simulation will reportedly focus on both physical and cyber attacks. The antiquated electrical system in the United States has been one of the most neglected pieces of integral infrastructure.

The EMP Commission, created by Congress, released a report in 2008 calling for increased planning and testing, and a stockpiling of needed repair items.

[ … ]

If the power grid fails, a lack of electricity and food delivery are only the first wave of troubles facing the American people. Police could face major problems with civil unrest. Of course, there also would not be any electric heating or cooling, which easily could lead to many deaths depending on the season.

Listen to me carefully.  A cyber attack or an EMP attack aren’t the real worries, nor is the fact that the systems are “antiquated” (I don’t even know what that means anyway).  If by antiquated they mean that utilities don’t repair transmission lines or replace transformers by clicking on buttons on a computer screen or using an iPhone app, I guess so.

The real vulnerability remains, and the drill simulation isn’t going to do anything about the fact that transformers are ensconced at a location, aren’t numerous, are difficult and time-consuming to transport, and aren’t made in the U.S..  General Patton is reported to have said fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity.  A power plant is a fixed fortification, except that it isn’t fortified.  Understand?

It could happen by hurricane as with Sandy, where electrical coverage wasn’t complete even three months after the event.  I lived through hurricane Hugo, where we were without power for two weeks (and I studied for my professional engineering examination for two weeks by candle light).

It might take the form of foreign terrorists attacking our electrical grid, or it might take the form of men who, after watching innocent people shot in SWAT raids, their animals slaughtered in front of them, their wealth stolen from them to feed the lazy masses, and their future sold to bread, circuses and illegal immigrants, can take no more.

Whatever the form, the vulnerability remains, and while the Johnny-come-lately federal government finally understands the threat, it can do nothing to ameliorate it.  It can only conduct feel-good simulations to pretend that we’re prepared for the worst.  This drill isn’t testing us for the worst.  We won’t lose any power, we won’t see riots in the streets, people won’t be starving, there won’t be any run on the banks, and the stock market won’t crash.

The only question is this: are you prepared for the worst?  The government is feigning preparations.  Yours needs to be real.

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Comments

  1. On August 30, 2013 at 8:52 am, Paul B said:

    Yep. Electrical events have a 9 out 10 projected loss with in the year. It is the most horrific thing that could happen to us.

    On reason I think Islam is more about keep there own masses in line rather than actually killing the great satan. We trained every engineer they have so they have to be aware of this short coming in our infrastructure.

    This is becoming a very scary fall.

  2. On August 30, 2013 at 6:23 pm, Mark Matis said:

    I would note that, were the grid to fail for as few as 4 major hives, the FedPigs would be too busy to deal with anything else. New York. Chicago. Los Angeles. DC. Maybe Atlanta? How long do you think it would take the feral “youfs” to realize that, without electrical power, the street lights and security cameras would no longer work? And just what do you think keeps those fine upstanding Obama sons from wreaking MORE havoc on Mere Citizens?

  3. On September 1, 2013 at 2:30 am, Tom said:

    Sir,
    This article is right in line with what has already happened, at least at one major North American utility company (http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/04/16/gunshots-cause-oil-spill-at-san-jose-pge-substation/). Luckily for Pacific Gas and Electric this “vandalism” happened the day after the Boston bombing, so there wasn’t much news coverage outside of the Bay Area. The “vandal” happened to attack a substation that is inside of a power grid, instead of one using a radial line configuration, such as that in Northern California. Essentially, the power grid is like a safety net so that the electrical load is dispersed amongst other electrical substations if one is offline for some reason. However, a radial line is a line of substations in which one is fed by another sequentially. If a radial substation goes offline, every substation downstream goes offline.

    Northern California along the coast is fed on a radial line. If this “vandal” had attacked a substation in, say Ukiah, every town north of it would be dark. This includes every important customer like hospitals and homes with medical equipment inside them. So while the population of San Jose is many times greater than the northern California coast region, the coastal region is at a much greater risk of sabotage.

    In the case of the Metcalf Substation attack, the attacker knew exactly how and what to attack to damage the substation. Only the 500 kV transformers were attacked, in a span of a few minutes, while the 230 kV and 115 kV transformers were left alone. There is a real possibility that this attack was merely a trial run for an attack on another, unrelated power company elsewhere in the country.

    This substation went down because of a deliberate attack, but there are many other reasons to worry about electrical grid malfunctions. Transmission lines, for example, are required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to have specific ground distance clearances, and several in the Bay Area don’t have that clearance (PG&E is working to rectify the situation). Absent that ground clearance, trees could interfere with power lines and cause outages just the same as a terrorist attack. The bottom line is that the electrical grid is similar to other infrastructure in America: mostly, it’s sound for everyday use, but not protected against worst-case scenarios.

  4. On September 2, 2013 at 5:34 am, The Roofer said:

    I guess micro generation is the ultimate answer – if we all had our own source of electricity such as solar power (with battery back up) then the network would be far more resilient.

  5. On September 2, 2013 at 8:16 am, mitch said:

    They are still made here but wait time is terrible and MHI is building a new factory in Memphis TN

  6. On October 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm, Thomas Wells said:

    Ya got to wonder if the brain dead suit set of moronocrates, when they stage their “drill” in November, will add a part where the chaos wreackage and ruin from a grid attack will require the importation of “peace keeping ” forces from,say: Turkey,Iraq,Pakistan,Barackistan etc.

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You are currently reading "Survival Preparations: The Electrical Grid Is Still Vulnerable", entry #11178 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Survival and was published August 29th, 2013 by Herschel Smith.

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