Unknown suspects targeted two North Carolina substations with gunfire last Saturday, disabling the power grid for days and leaving over 40,000 without electricity in Moore County. Jeff Brooks, principal communications manager for Duke Energy, told CNN that the attackers had done millions of dollars in damage to the substations.
“Equipment will have to be replaced,” Brooks said. “We’re pursuing multiple paths of restoration so that we can restore as many customers as quickly as possible. Recognising that, we are looking at pretty sophisticated repair with some fairly large equipment.” Duke Energy believes that some residents will not have power back until Thursday, five days after the attack. In the meantime, a public warming station with bathrooms and showers has been set up at the Moore County Sports Complex.
The outage is stretching local law enforcement as they work to respond to the situation. Sheriff’s deputies are guarding other key substations to try to prevent the attacker from making the situation worse. At the same time, there has been an increase in emergency calls in Moore County according to CNN, many related to car accidents caused by the power outage turning off traffic lights. Mike Cameron of the Southern Pines Fire and Rescue Department told CNN that residents who rely on oxygen have also placed emergency calls due to the power outage.
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields told reporters at a news conference that multiple rounds were fired at both substations. “It was targeted, it wasn’t random,” he added. “The person, or persons, who did this knew exactly what they were doing,” Fields said. “We don’t have a clue why Moore County.” So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack and no motive has been found. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI are responding, according to U.S. Representative Richard Hudson.
The U.S. power grid is notoriously vulnerable. Leaked information from a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report in 2014 suggested that disabling just nine substations could cause coast-to-coast blackouts for up to 18 months. In January this year, a Department of Homeland Security report warned that domestic terrorist groups have been making detailed plans to attack the U.S. power grid since at least 2020. It is possible that the North Carolina attack was part of one such plan.
In leaked documents obtained by NewsNation on Monday, federal officials from an undisclosed agency appeared to link the Moore County attack to similar incidents in Oregon and Washington state. Such plots are becoming more common. Less than a month ago officials in Jones County, North Carolina reported that a substation had been vandalized, cutting power to around 12,000 residents.
In February of this year, three white supremacists were arrested for planning a terrorist attack on the U.S. power grid. The Department of Justice said that the white supremacists “believed their plan would cost the government millions of dollars and cause unrest for Americans in the region.” Ultimately, it appears that they hoped their actions would “cause war, even a race war, and induce the next Great Depression.”
While the exact motive for the Moore County attackers is not yet known, it is worrying that information on how to disable critical infrastructure is becoming more accessible to individuals hoping to cause harm. If federal agencies determine that this was part of a multi-state plot, they will need to figure out how to prevent the next attack from happening.