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Substation Attacks: Terrorism or Vandalism?

image credit: Purchased Stock
David Gaier's picture
Owner, David Gaier PR

David Gaier is a communications professional, former spokesman for NRG Energy and PSEG Long Island, and consultant to energy advisory agencies. His 30+-year career includes crisis communications...

  • Member since 2019
  • 56 items added with 32,954 views
  • Dec 7, 2022

On Saturday night December 3, unidentified assailants attacked two critical Duke Energy substations in Moore County, North Carolina with gunfire. The damage affected about half the county’s 99,000 residents, threatening lives and gaining the attention of not only local law enforcement, but also the FBI, The Department of Homeland Security, the state’s Governor Roy Cooper, and even President Biden. Duke Energy said the damage is “severe” and that much of the equipment could not be repaired and would have to be replaced. The county declared a state of emergency and put a curfew in place, and several organizations organized shelters and meals for those affected. At this writing, about 30,000 customers are reportedly still without power, and may remain so until sometime Thursday.

There are rumblings on social media, none backed up with verifiable evidence, that the attack is related to a protest of a drag show that took place Saturday night at the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines, N.C., but neither the FBI or local law enforcement will cite any motive or suspects at this time.

But there’s a larger security issue here. There are approximately 55,000 electric substations in the United States. They are unguarded, and almost all are open-air facilities, protected only by fencing. Yet they are essential parts of the grid—“critical infrastructure”—and as we’ve seen, taking down just two plunged tens of thousands of people into cold and darkness, especially dangerous for the elderly and those on some type of life support equipment, as well as hospitals and first responder facilities. Power outages in general disproportionally affect the poor and those without personal vehicles; those with chronic health problems; and in cases of sudden and unanticipated incidents like this, few people are prepared with food and other essentials for extended outages.

Electricity is at the heart of modern life, and very little moves without it. We see, during prolonged power outages following ice storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes, how quickly the fabric of society starts to tear. At least 246 Texans died in the wake of power outages during Winter Storm Uri in February of 2021, and an analysis of data from the CDC attributed as many as 978 excess deaths to the storm and blackout. People left their homes to seek warmth, water, or food, and were killed on icy roads or in related accidents. Others resorted to space heaters and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Still, virtually everyone still takes having electricity a given—until it’s not.

The Moore County attacks were far more than “vandalism.” We’re not talking about “taggers” (graffiti artists) or kids with BB guns shooting at mailboxes. We’re talking about significant threats to life of large numbers of people. We're talking about domestic terrorism.

For the FBI’s purposes, domestic terrorism is defined in Title 18 of U.S. Code as “Involving acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; appearing to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping; and occurring primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security, however, looks to the Homeland Security Act definition of in Title 6 of the U.S. Code, which is substantially similar but not identical to the title 18 definition. That provision defines terrorism as any activity that involves an act that is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure (italics mine) or key resources; is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

Any act that “terrorizes” entire civilian populations not only intimidates them but endangers their lives, and should be considered terrorism by definition. Our fragile and vulnerable power grid and water systems, among others, surely qualify as critical infrastructure, and obviously need much more protection. And those who attack them should be pursued and prosecuted as domestic terrorists.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Dec 8, 2022

This type of action is very deadly and the people who did this need to be put in jail and prosecuted. They just don't know how dangerous these actions are. I hope you get all of them off the streets. No matter what we call it the actions are terrible in many ways.

David Svarrer's picture
David Svarrer on Dec 8, 2022

No matter what one thinks, feels or perceives, it is heinous, vicious, and outright idiotic to damage anything for others. If one is not happy here on Earth, yeah-yeah - pull the plug, indeed - but not for others :-)

David Svarrer's picture
David Svarrer on Dec 8, 2022

Maybe it is a little Russian enclave who wanted to copy their motherlands activities in Ukraine :-)... 

Russians has, unfortunately, not a good reputation in regards to making societies work. Contrary to the "social" part of "Socialism" - that is one part which, in any implementation of Socialism, has never been a part of that ism. 

A lot of the Russian way of doing things goes via creating relative wealth for a small enclave - by spoiling it for the rest. 

Americans are not much different, but without the destruction part of that ism. You can see it reflected in that Capital-ism does not mean capital for the people, but again - for the few. Just like Social-ism is only social for the few.

So after a bit consideration, maybe the perpetrator is one of those ism's who never got any capital :-) :-) ... 

Jokes off.. Any news about motive, cause, etc? 

Anthony Coker's picture
Anthony Coker on Dec 8, 2022

Thanks David. The image shown appears to be stock photo. It implies there was a fire. Is that the case as I have not read that in any news reports thus far?

David Gaier's picture
David Gaier on Dec 10, 2022

Anthony it is a stock photo, not a photo of either of the damaged substations. For copyright reasons I bought a photo. It's intended to show what can  happen, however, to a large power transformer that as you may know, are not readily available or easily moved.

Mark Allen's picture
Mark Allen on Dec 12, 2022

You hit upon a major issue with our laws as they currently stand. There are 2 definitions in 2 different parts of the same code. This is not an issue confined to federal laws, it happens across state codes and municipal codes as well. Then, it is expected that the average citizen first knows the laws, second knows what the penalties may be if they are broken, and third makes a conscious decision about what their actions will be. None of which is true. To many, shooting a neighbor's barn or garage is no different than shooting at the substation. There is little or no calculation of the ramifications of the acts between the 2 choices. None of this is taught in our current education systems and very few people could tell you why one choice is so much more heinous than the other. Outside of politicians and lawyers very few actually read any of the laws and regulations that apply to us. And, when the codes are muddied by replication instead of duplication of language it becomes even more muddied. Nobody can really predict what will happen to an offender who commits and is convicted of a heinous act because of the differences in jurisdiction, venue, the political scene, the social media scene, who the actor is, and how these various definitions are actually to be applied. In fact, nobody can even tell you how many offenses exist within the federal code and the code of federal regulations, there are too many and it is next to impossible to form a clear count due the conflicting nature of the code and the regulations. With this situation in place, how can we expect any real justice in the justice system as it exists?   

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Dec 12, 2022

Strikes me that the event may be used by the government as an excuse to further laws to crush opposition to politically based policies while ignoring actual problems, like our cities being burned down.

Plunking electrical equipment with rifle shots fired by mindless jackasses has been a problem for a very long time.

To the extent that people believe that they are not being treated fairly, then violence (from both left and right) will become more common.

The transmission and distribution systems were never designed for widespread overt or covert acts of vandalism or premeditated malicious destruction, although some key items can be and are protected (e.g. protected by concrete walls). Fundamentally, the best protection lies with our citizens and government acting responsibly.



David Gaier's picture
David Gaier on Jan 22, 2023

"Plunking" (I think you mean "plinking") electrical substations is not the same as randomly shooting mailboxes. It's an attack on critical electrical infrastructure, and as my article shows, it can be construed as a federal crime, as it should be. Plunging hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans into cold and darkness is no joke, and it's not funny.

Mark Allen's picture
Mark Allen on Jan 24, 2023

Mr. Stack and Mr. Svarrer, I agree 100%. IMO, anyone who intentionally breaches a marked barrier into any electrical facility of any kind should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, especially if they cause any damage. My point is our criminal code, at all levels, is out of control. If our government can't even tell us how many offenses there are, we could be in violation of something ourselves, right now. None of us has any intention of becoming a criminal, yet that is what is constantly happening with our federal government and the regulators we did not elect. They can't even define the same acts with the same language.   

David Svarrer's picture
David Svarrer on Jan 26, 2023

USA has too many laws. It is much more simple than the law states it:


If you deliberately intentionally spoil value for others without any reasonable cause (ie. Emergency) then cut off the head. 


Simplify laws so that there are no 1st , 2nd or 3rd degree. There should be either you did it deliberately with no reasonable cause or you had reasonable cause. End of story. 


A society can accept any hero who shoots himself or herself into a building to save lives. 


Any society would likely also agree to that any shooting (!!!) not done in the intent of doing good, or ridding society of bad, should be banned... 


This attack with arms on s substation? Let them criminals explain themselves. And if they have a just cause, celebrate them as heroes. Otherwise off with the head.. Good riddance. Not to det an example. Just to not waste time on such intellectual invertebrates.

David Gaier's picture
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