Northeast Florida utility companies taking action after shootings at North Carolina power substations cause outages

Officials say Moore County electric grid was targeted

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After an attack on an electric grid in North Carolina, Northeast Florida utility companies say they are fortifying the security around their power grids.

Authorities say said one or more people shot up two substations in Moore County, but the repairs won’t be complete until later in the week. Officials have said the damage requires sophisticated repairs and delivery of equipment from outside of the area. Nearly 36,000 customers were without power in the county as of Tuesday, down from a peak of about 45,000, according to poweroutage.us.

Authorities have said the outages began shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday night after one or more people breached the gates of the two substations and opened fire. Authorities have not released a motive or said what kind of firearm was used, and it’s still unclear if this was an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI is assisting in the investigation.

“This was a specific act. The person or persons knew what they were doing and what it took to disable this substation,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security renewed a bulletin, sending it out to utility companies to warn them about attacks on critical infrastructure. The bulletin states, “Several recent attacks, plots and threats of violence demonstrate the continued dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment in the United States.”

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“A disruption like this is just a small example of what can happen more, you know, on a grander scale, and what it does is it creates chaos and fear, and that is what terrorism is designed to do,” said former FBI agent Toni Chrabot, who now works with Risk Confidence Group.

Chrabot tells News4JAX that electric utilities are considered hardened targets. She says the disruption of service to thousands of people highlights America’s reliance on electricity.

“We are heavily reliant on the power grid, right, for so many things — if you plug in a light bulb, if you plug in oxygen, if, you know, now your car,” Chrabot said. “So we’re heavily reliant, so these should have significant security around them — both physical security on the outside and cybersecurity for their systems.”

In the Jacksonville area, News4JAX has learned, local utilities are taking action. They say their teams are on heightened alert after what happened in central North Carolina.

“We are updating the camera technology at our substations, which are monitored 24/7,” a Clay Electric spokesperson said in a statement. “Maintaining and enhancing the security of our electric grid is a top priority. In addition to security fencing, routine physical inspections are conducted at all our substations.”

A spokesperson from JEA said, “JEA employs a defense-in-depth approach in the protection of our electrical substation. This approach incorporates a variety of security resources and technologies to protect our assets from an act of sabotage or destruction.”

And a spokesperson for Florida Power and Light said its utility is in constant contact with law enforcement and remains on heightened alert.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.