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Page added on May 28, 2013

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Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System

General Ideas

I am currently reading Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System.  From the summary:

The electric power delivery system that carries electricity from large central generators to customers could be severely damaged by a small number of well-informed attackers. The system is inherently vulnerable because transmission lines may span hundreds of miles, and many key facilities are unguarded. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that the power grid, most of which was originally designed to meet the needs of individual vertically integrated utilities, is now being used to move power between regions to support the needs of new competitive markets for power generation. Primarily because of ambiguities introduced as a result of recent restructuring of the industry and cost pressures from consumers and regulators, investment to strengthen and upgrade the grid has lagged, with the result that many parts of the bulk high-voltage system are heavily stressed.

A terrorist attack on the power system would lack the dramatic impact of the attacks in New York, Madrid, or London. It would not immediately kill many people or make for spectacular television footage of bloody destruction. But if it were carried out in a carefully planned way, by people who knew what they were doing, it could deny large regions of the country access to bulk system power for weeks or even months. An event of this magnitude and duration could lead to turmoil, widespread public fear, and an image of helpless- ness that would play directly into the hands of the terrorists. If such large extended outages were to occur during times of extreme weather, they could also result in hundreds or even thousands of deaths due to heat stress or extended exposure to extreme cold.

The largest power system disruptions experienced to date in the United States have caused high economic impacts. Considering that a systematically designed and executed terrorist attack could cause disruptions that were even more widespread and of longer duration, it is no stretch of the imagination to think that such attacks could entail costs of hundreds of billions of dollars—that is, perhaps as much as a few percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), which is currently about $12.5 trillion.

Electric systems are not designed to withstand or quickly recover from damage inflicted simultaneously on multiple components. Such an attack could be carried out by knowl- edgeable attackers with little risk of detection or interdiction. Further well-planned and coordinated attacks by terrorists could leave the electric power system in a large region of the country at least partially disabled for a very long time.

Alert readers may note that the $12.5 trillion figure for GDP is inconsistent with the 2012 publication date of this National Academies of Science report.  Apparently it was written in the 2004-2007 timeframe, but then classified until last year.

early warning



5 Comments on "Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System"

  1. DC on Tue, 28th May 2013 11:32 pm 

    RoFL! There are no ‘terrorists’ out to sabotage amerikas crappy electrical grid. These stories are being planted because the US corporate rulers have deferred over a trillion dollars(at least) in necessary upgrades and maintenance. However, as floods, storms, mechanical failures continue to mount, and service becomes less reliable and more expensive, it will be ‘terrorists’ that get the blame, not amerikas for-profit energy utilities. The corporate presstitutes have already begun planting the idea in the gullible amerikan publics mind that China has secretive ‘facilities’ dedicated to just that purpose.

    The real vulnerability is that amerika has a early 20th C grid with a few patches of modern design here and there, not make believe jihadists plotting to blow up amerikas 80 year old transformers. The EU by contrast, is pretty much all HVDC backbone, and years ago at that.

  2. rollin on Tue, 28th May 2013 11:46 pm 

    So we are spending 100 billion a year for internal security and they never watch power substations or other facilities? I want my money back.

    Terrorists don’t do this sort of thing because it is a small bang for the buck. Power goes out for up to two weeks at a time here just from natural causes, so it is not really a terror factor just big pain. They like to see bodies. Power going out is not dramatic enough.

    That is why freight railroads are not attacked, freight trains derail on their own and so the public is used to it.

  3. rollin on Wed, 29th May 2013 12:19 am 

    Hey DC, the European Super-grid is still on the planning board, doesn’t exist yet. The EU only has peripheral HVDC connections now off some of the major AC systems. The Germans are now thinking of implementing internal HVDC because it will be cheaper than upgrading their old AC systems.

    Don’t know how it is in Ruska, but here when a power company tries to even upgrade a major line the environmentalists and local action groups hold them up for years. Power to the people.
    The government also makes them to endless environmental studies. We can’t even get simple rail lines here, the bureaucracy holds up the money or moves it elsewhere. Power to the government.
    Got one near me that has two miles of rail out of 85 miles after twenty years.

    So except for highway rebuild it’s been pretty much stalled here after we built all those great superhighways and malls. Highways to nowhere, watch out for the tractor trailers.

  4. jackmehoffer on Wed, 29th May 2013 2:22 am 

    Read Douglas Bland’s recent ‘Uprising’ novel about disaffected Canadian Natives who organize and disrupt key power lines, oil lines, author is security expert, shows how N America is vulenrable to such attacks

  5. BillT on Wed, 29th May 2013 3:22 am 

    A large part of the US power system could be taken down by computer anywhere in the world. The powers that be know that. Why do you think they want to control the internet? (Besides to block truth.)

    Many of the thousands of transformers in the system take a year or more to replace as they are custom made, and not in the US. If they all were burned out, the power grid may never come back up. The more complicated a technology, the easier it is to sabotage.

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