An increasing number of reported threats to energy infrastructure are being investigated following attacks on substations in the south and west coast as electricity becomes a more pressing need in the winter.
Even before Saturday’s gun attacks in Moore County, North Carolina, wiped out electricity for days for thousands, at least five power substations in Oregon and Washington were attacked in November, according to energy companies.
While no motive or suspect has been identified for the North Carolina attacks, investigators are focusing on two potential themes centered on extremist behavior: graffiti by extremists on online forums encouraging attacks on critical infrastructure and a recent spate of unrest of LGBTQ+ events around the country. the country by domestic extremists, law enforcement sources told CNN.
Although investigators have no evidence linking the Moore County outage to a drag event that began there when the lights went out, the timing and context of armed confrontations around similar LBGTQ+ events around the country are being looked at, sources told CNN. Sandhills PRIDE said the outage ended the Moore County drag show after audience members lit up the stage with telephone flashlights.
As investigators continue to search for clues and clues, investigators from the Moore County Sheriff’s Office have applied for search warrants, Maj. Andy Conway told CNN Thursday without giving details about the nature of the searches. He added that no arrest warrants had been issued.
The FBI had warned about reports of threats to electrical infrastructure by people espousing extremist ideology with racial or ethnic motives to “create civil disorder and foment further violence,” the agency said in a November 22 bulletin sent to the private sector.
The shooting near a power plant in Ridgway, South Carolina, was an act of random, Kershaw County Sheriff Lee Bowen said Thursday. The FBI joined the investigation there, Puan said, but “the only connection between the shooting and the water plant is their proximity.”
After this month’s events in South Carolina and North Carolina, where the lights went down again on Wednesday:
• In Oregon, a Clackamas substation was damaged in a “deliberate physical attack” over the Thanksgiving holiday, a spokesperson for the Booneville Department of Energy told CNN. “BPA operators discovered a severed perimeter fence and damaged equipment inside,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company is working with the FBI on the incident.
• In Washington state, “two incidents occurred (in) late November at two different substations,” a Puget Sound Energy spokesperson told CNN. “Both incidents are currently under investigation by the FBI,” she said, adding, “We are aware of recent threats to energy systems across the country and take them very seriously.”
Two Cowlitz County Public Utility substations were vandalized in mid-November in the Woodland area, agency spokeswoman Alice Dietz told The Seattle Times. “At this time, we have no further comment… Our facilities have since been repaired,” Dietz told the Times. CNN has reached out to the FBI’s Seattle office for comment.
Thousands of electrical substations help keep communities running across the country. Now, some residents are wondering if others are at risk of attack.
“I think the short answer is yes,” said David Terry, executive director of the National Association of State Energy Officials.
“The electric grid is a huge and — for the most part — interconnected machine. It’s impossible to protect every node.”
In recent years, “state and federal (and) industry leaders have taken steps to protect critical nodes,” Terry said. “But there are still substations in particular that we can’t infinitely protect, unfortunately.”
Terry said that reducing disaster risk from attacks on energy infrastructure requires a multifaceted approach.
There are really two pieces: one is to harden the infrastructure. Sure, this still happens, but the threat is growing much faster.
This fortification could include building walls around power substations or adding armed guards.
“The second part is being more flexible,” Terry said. “So you see state energy and state energy managers across the country working with their utilities and the Department of Energy … to work on things like mini grids and backup power for mission-critical facilities like hospitals and nursing homes.”
In the past two years, anti-government groups have begun using online forums to urge their followers to attack critical infrastructure, including the power grid. They have published documents and even instructions that identify weaknesses and suggest the use of high-powered rifles.
One 14-page piece of evidence obtained by CNN cited as an example a 2013 sniper attack on a high-voltage substation on the edge of Silicon Valley that destroyed 17 transformers and cost Pacific Gas & Electric $15 million in repairs.
A law enforcement source told CNN that the caliber of bullets in the California incident differed from those used in North Carolina.
Everyone who attacked substations in North Carolina “knew exactly what they were doing,” said Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields.
Law enforcement sources told CNN that investigators found approximately two dozen shell casings from a high-powered shotgun around the damaged substations. While no gun has ever been recovered, its ballistics may still provide important clues. The sources said that bullets pulled from a transformer station and copper shell casings that were found at a short distance are being examined.
The casings can be entered into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives database and matched to any other shell casings fired by the same gun at another crime scene, or to the same gun if found. Cover sites may also provide clues.
On Wednesday, Sharif asked the public to provide any surveillance footage from bombed areas and announced a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.
A person who lives near a West End substation heard about 20 gunshots in quick succession the night the station was attacked, he told CNN affiliate WRAL. He said that the electricity did not go off for 30 minutes after that.
“My wife and I were sitting on the couch watching a movie and suddenly, around 8:45, about 20 rounds were fired directly across the street,” Spencer Matthews told WRAL.
The outage paralyzed the local economy and paralyzed the daily life of more than 45,000 homes and businesses. Just because the electricity is back on doesn’t mean the pain is over.
Moore County Superintendent Wayne Vest said the businesses have “lost an enormous amount over the past few days.” The outage affected more than 600 food establishments, Moore County Health Director[مت][غرنر]It said
We know that our people will end the day and pass the night in power and light and safety. John Strickland, Mayor of Pinehurst, said there is another element of our population that continues to suffer…they are the local merchants.
“If you’re eating out, if you’re only going to go out once, go out twice,” Feist said. “If you’re going shopping and buy one pack, buy two.”