Chemical, biological, and radiological weapons and attacks are what most people think of when they think of major physical threats to this country, getting CBR weapons into the country and deploying them in an effective manner is very complicated and has a low probability of success. The terrorist’s ultimate soft targets are the nation’s high voltage transmission grids and it is much easier for terrorists to inflict major damage. All high voltage transmission grids are currently vulnerable to a terrorist attack because the grids are designed to supply reliable power to the load (electric energy users) assuming very few (1 0r 2) simultaneous major component outages.
If 3 or more critical components are out of service at the same time the effected grid would automatically be shut down by the protective relays to prevent more critical equipment from being damaged from the resulting abnormal system conditions.
While no known Terrorist groups has the capability to disable the entire national grid, it’s much to extensive,
they have the capability to disable a local grid supplying electricity to a major city.
Terrorist [to learn how a terrorist would design an attack click Can] do this because most large cities import their electric power over long, exposed aerial power lines from generating plants some located hundreds or thousands of miles away. The high voltage grid begins at the generating plants where a very large, specialized transformer called the generator step up transformer is used to raise the low voltage produced by the generator to a much higher voltage needed to transport the electrical energy over long distances.
Without electric power normal activities essential to life in the cities will immediately be disrupted. Millions will find themselves in a fight for survival for which many will lose. The entire nation will be effected. Why haven’t the terrorist attacked the grid yet? They may already be in the advanced planning stages. 9/11 was a complete surprise. It would take fewer terrorist than struck on 9/11 to carry out a crippling attack on the transmission grid supplying a major city. For the terrorist knocking out power to a major city, or worse multiple cities, would be the equivalent of hitting America with a WMD.
The term Terrorist’s WMD is not a WMD weapon rather the devastation resulting from the attack:
- Potentially Millions of Casualties
- Potentially Millions more Displaced People
- Extensive Damage to Buildings, Infrastructure, Industries in the target city
- Long Term, Catastrophic Impact on the Nation’s economy
The actual “weapons” used to cause this devastation are low tech :
- improvised from common-place and easily obtainable components to make explosives and incendiary devices.
- Shotguns or Rifles used for hunting deer
- Drones and model airplanes sold in thousands of stores and on line
- Large Drones, Ultra light and small private piloted aircraft
- common, man portable, military weapons which because of their small size can easily be smuggled into the country by land (across open boarders), sea ( hidden in the cargo of a freighter, transported into the country by small boats) , or air (in a small airplane). US Authorities know Mexican Drug Cartels are currently smuggling explosives into the US across the Mexican-US boarder. So far the explosives have only been used by one Cartel against another as the drug wars spill North across the Mexican boarder.
These weapons would be used to:
- explosives – to breach the reinforced walls built to protect critical infrastructure substations, once inside the substations to destroy the critical infrastructure power transformers
- Shotguns- shooting steel shot at a transformer bushing or power line insulator. The steel shot will form a conductive path for the arc (causing a short) between the high voltage end of the bushing or insulator and the grounded end of the bushing (the aluminum flange used to bolt the bushing to the transformers cover) or the grounded end of the line insulator. The arc will severely damage the bushing or line insulator requiring their replacement.
- Rifles used to damage transformer bushings or power line insulators with the same results as a shotgun but from a further distance.
- Rocket Propeller Grenades (RPGs), – to destroy the critical infrastructure power transformers
- Incendiary device -to destroy critical infrastructure power transformers
- Small drones or model airplanes deliberately crashed into a transformer bushing or power line insulator shorting out the bushing or line insulators. Small drones and RC model airplanes can only be used in calm winds without precipitation. The electric fields surrounding high voltage transmission lines can interfere with the RC signal and cause the drones to crash.
- Larger drones, ultra light aircraft or small private planes can be used to drop explosives or incendiary devices on transformers.
- ISIS is currently using commercially available Drones to hit Iraqi tanks with IEDs. Tanks are smaller targets than transformers and tanks move.
- Winter in the Northern States is a force multiplier weapon. Apartments, homes and businesses will have no heat and no water for weeks or months during the coldest and stormiest time of the year.
With either improvised or light military weapons the terrorist’s can, with a well planned and co ordinated attack, destroy the key components of the transmission grid.
The targets [to learn how a terrorist would select targets click Targets] are:
- Critical Infrastructure large power transformers
- Critical Infrastructure high voltage transmission line insulators – destroying just one insulator will disable the entire transmission line until that insulator is replaced.
Videos of line insulators flashing over and transformers burning for days after a catastrophic internal failure can be seen on the web by doing a web search. These videos are made when energized equipment has failed during an event such as a lighting strike or other equipment failures not caused by a terrorist attack. If terrorists flew a drone into a line insulator the same kind of destruction will happen. The resulting fire ball would consume the drone and destroy the line insulator. A drone attack on an energized transformer bushing would likewise short out the bushing. The resulting fire ball would destroy the bushing. The destruction of the bushing would likely damage the windings inside the transformer. Any damage to the windings destroys the transformer.
Large Cities are Prime Terrorist Targets
- Northeast corridor roughly from Boston to Washington DC. This region is the most densely populated in the Country and imports most of its power over long, venerable transmission grids. The extra high voltage National Grid which is supposed to move green power thousands of miles from the West, Midwest, and Canada is built mostly in very isolated areas. A long duration power outage in the Northeast Corridor would also have the most damaging impact to far away parts of the country which never lost power
- Chicago is particularly venerable because most of it’s power is also imported. In addition to power generated in plants located in Northern Illinois, a significant part of Chicago’s power is transmitted over hundreds or thousands of miles of transmission lines located in rural parts of the upper Midwest and Canada.
- California imports most of its power from States as far away as Texas, Wyoming and Oregon. San Diego had a total blackout initiated by a minor maintenance error several states away which caused the automatic shutting down of multiple transmission lines by normal grid protection system operations which were in place to prevent overloading grid transformer
- A search of the internet will result in many articles and papers, some dating back a dozen years or more, detailing the vulnerability of the nation’s transmission grid, minor attacks on the grid that have already happened as well as the consequences to people and the economy of a large scale attack.
- One paper states that if only 1% of all the bombs dropped by the US Army Air Corps on Germany during WWII had been dropped on the German electric transmission grid the German economy would have collapsed. The German war machine would have been severely crippled. The paper explains the reason the German transmission grid was not bombed was the Allies grossly under estimated the Grid’s vulnerability to an aerial attack.
- The US Federal government has been issuing regulations for several years requiring Electric Utility Companies to improve the security of their transmission grid. Unfortunately most of the Federal regulations are directed to cybersecurity which is a minor operational risk compared to a physical attack on the critical infrastructure.
The Federal Government Energy Department and their State counterparts are repeating the mistakes of the Allies during WWII only this time the US power grid will be on the receiving end of the aerial attacks.
Terrorists are looking for soft targets to attack. The transmission grid is the ultimate soft target. The transmission grid is the ultimate soft target because of the easy at which it can be disabled and the enormous damage caused by knocking out power to the target city. The effect of blacking out one major city will be devastating to the entire country