PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After authorities said someone intentionally shot and damaged 2 power substations in North Carolina, cutting electricity to tens of thousands of families, NewsNation obtained a federal memo warning about similar attacks in the Pacific Northwest.
“Power companies in Oregon and Washington have reported physical attacks on substations using handtools, arson, firearms and metal chains possibly in response to an online call for attacks on critical infrastructure,” the memo states.
The aim, according to the memo, is “violent anti-government criminal activity.”
“In recent attacks criminal actors bypassed security fences by cutting the fence links, lighting nearby fires, shooting equipment from a distance or throwing objects over the fence and onto equipment,” the memo continued.
Both PGE and Pacific Power confirmed to KOIN 6 News they are aware of these issues.
“PGE is aware of a deliberate physical attack on one of our substations in the Clackamas area that occurred in late November. We are actively cooperating with the FBI and cannot at this time share many details about this incident as it is currently under investigation. Our teams have assessed the damage and begun repair to the impacted facility.” — PGE spokesperson
“We are aware of the events and have security measures in place to protect our assets and keep our customers and employees safe and secure. We are working closely with industry partners and law enforcement to monitor the situation and will apply any emerging threat information to evaluate against our security measures to reduce the likelihood or impact of an attack where possible. As always, protecting the nation’s energy grid and ensuring a reliable and affordable supply of energy are top priorities for the energy industry and Pacific Power.” — Pacific Power spokesperson
Clark County PUD said they have not had any issues in their area beyond homeless trespassing.
FBI Portland Public Affairs Specialist Joy Jiras told KOIN 6 News, “While our standard practice is to decline comment on specific bulletins, the FBI routinely shares information with our law enforcement partners in order to assist in protecting the communities they serve. We urge the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.”
Meanwhile, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office told KOIN 6 News that a list of local power substations has been provided to all local law enforcement. Deputies will be providing extra patrols at those locations within their jurisdictions.
TARGETS FOR EXTREMIST GROUPS
Moore County (North Carolina) Sheriff Ronnie Fields said the attacks on their substations “was targeted” and local investigators were working with the FBI.
He said someone pulled up and “opened fire on the substation, the same thing with the other one.”
Federal authorities have warned that the power grid could be a prime target for extremist groups that embrace “accelerationism,” a fringe philosophy that promotes mass violence to fuel society’s collapse.
In January, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report warned that domestic extremists have been developing “credible, specific plans” to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020. The DHS report warns that extremists “adhering to a range of ideologies will likely continue to plot and encourage physical attacks against electrical infrastructure.”
The department wrote that attackers would be unlikely to produce widespread, multistate outages without inside help. But its report cautioned that an attack could still do damage and cause injuries.
Members of white supremacist and antigovernment groups have been linked to plots to attack the power grid. In February, three men pleaded guilty to conspiring to attack U.S. energy facilities. Authorities said they were driven by white supremacist ideologies to “sow mayhem and division among Americans.”
WHAT’S THE CHALLENGE IN PROTECTING THE GRID?
The vastness of American electricity infrastructure makes it difficult to defend. Power plants and substations like those targeted in North Carolina are dispersed in every corner of the country and connected by transmission lines that transport electricity through farmland, forests and swamps.
“The grid is massive,” said Erroll Southers, a former FBI official and professor of homeland security at the University of Southern California.
The targets also present an increasing challenge to secure because attackers don’t always have to get as close as they did in North Carolina in order to do damage, Southers said. With the right rifle, skill and line of sight a sniper could take a shot from as far as 1,500 meters (about 4,900 feet) away.
Protecting substations against a long range rifle shot is “extremely challenging, if not impossible,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report