Sniper attack on power grid alarms lawmakers

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A recently revealed criminal attack upon a Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) substations has given lawmakers pause and turned the subject not just to cybersecurity for electric power infrastructure, but physical security

The Wall Street Journal reported a previously unpublicized 52-minute assault by snipers on PG&E's Metcalf transmission substation. The assailants fired some 100 bullets into the substation, which knocked 17 transformers out of service.

PG&E was able to stave off a loss of service by diverting to other T&D assets, but utility workers had to spend 27 days repairing the shooters' damage to the substation area.

The FBI, which is serving as lead agency on the investigation, does not believe the attack was an act of international terrorism. Jon Wellinghoff, who led FERC at the time, said he believed the incident was domestic terror.

Former PG&E executive Mark Johnson said he was afraid the attack was merely a rehearsal for an even more ambitious attack on power grids.

Investigators told news outlets the attack started when the perpetrators removed manhole covers in two places on the Monterey Highway near San Jose to gain access to AT&T cables, which they then severed — cutting off phone service, including 911.

In 19 minutes, the intruders fired more than 100 rounds into substation equipment, disabling 17 of the station's 20 transformers. Damage was estimated at $16 million, and no arrests have been made as yet.

The incident touched off an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill, during which Rep. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the attack inflicted substantial damage.

Rep. Trent Franks, Republican from Arizona, said he hoped the security concerns raised by the attack could be addressed without additional regulations on industry.

There is proposed legislation that could give FERC more power to draft and enforce rules on power grid defenses, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

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