Domestic Terrorism Increases as Power Outage Cause

Think back to the last power outage you experienced. What was the cause of the outage?

Most likely it was extreme weather. That’s what causes a vast majority of blackouts in America. That weather could be anything from a thunderstorm or blizzard to a tornado or hurricane. Or even high winds.

But there are many other causes of power outages. One or more of them occurs nearly every day in this country.

Such as natural disasters, automobile accidents, and road construction. Or wildfires and overloaded circuits. Or small animals in electrical equipment. Or planned rolling blackouts. Or even cyber attacks and domestic terrorism. (More on domestic terrorism in a moment.)

Not to mention a higher than normal energy demand. Or just plain old human error or equipment failure.

Extreme weather is main cause

Living in an area of the country that experiences little in the way of violent weather does not make us immune from power outages. One or more of the causes just mentioned could affect you. Regardless of where you live. The key is to be ready.   

But getting back to weather for a moment, why does it cause outages? Well, floods and mudslides from heavy rain can damage electrical equipment. Extreme heat or cold can damage some of the electrical grid’s components.

Lightning can strike transformers or substations. Or knock down trees that damage power lines. In the winter, ice can freeze wires that transfer power from one place to another. Wind can flatten utility poles.

Of course, natural disasters can also knock down power lines. And damage transformers and destroy substations. Those disasters include earthquakes, tidal waves, and volcanic eruptions.

Accidents will happen

Have you ever experienced a power outage on a beautiful day? It’s very possible that outage was caused by a car or truck accident.

If one or more of those vehicles hits a utility pole, it can damage equipment enough to cause at least a local outage. Most of these outages last only four or five hours. But that could be long enough for some of your refrigerated food to spoil. 

Another common cause of outages on good-weather days is from road or building construction. Workers try to be careful about this. But they’re not perfect.

Landscapers and excavators sometimes inadvertently cut underground power lines. Even some homeowners are guilty of this while doing work on their property.

Equipment wears out

If we lived in a perfect world, every piece of equipment would last forever without any problems.

But power equipment is like everything else. It wears down as it ages. Especially when exposed to the elements.

Insulators corrode and break. Transformers fail. Cable insulation cracks and wires snap. 

Every piece of power equipment will eventually wear out. Periodic safety checks are designed to avoid this. But it still occurs.

Furry friends or foes?

Some small animals are attracted by the warmth and hum of electrical equipment. This is unfortunate for them and us.

Squirrels, birds, and other small creatures sometimes short-circuit connections while building nests. 

Some will even chew through power lines. Or knock down various components while foraging for food.    

Anytime wildlife seeks to escape excessive cold or heat, power equipment might be where they head to set up camp.

Power draws and sabotage

Speaking of excessive heat and cold, that’s when many people are drawing energy at the same time. And that can cause a breakdown.

That high-energy demand in a localized area – especially when everyone is using a furnace or air conditioner around the clock – can overload the system.

And then there are deliberate acts of destruction including vandalism. Sometimes this involves theft of wire and other components.

The number of cyber attacks – both foreign and domestic – on electric utilities is staggering. And scary. 

Terrorism is more prevalent

There has been a disturbingly high number of domestic terrorism attacks on U.S. power stations over the past six months.

Last Christmas Day, there were attacks on power substations in five different states in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast.

Even before 2022 had been completed, there were more than three times as many reported physical attacks against electrical infrastructure last year than in all of 2021.

Just since September, attacks or potential attacks have been reported on at least 18 substations and one power plant in Florida, Oregon, Washington, and the Carolinas. Several involved firearms.

Protection is a big challenge

Why are our electrical grids so difficult to protect from those who want to inflict damage against our country? For one thing, the grid includes more than 7,300 power plants, 55,000 transmission substations, and 160,000 miles of high-voltage power lines. 

Granger Morgan is an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He chaired three National Academies of Sciences reports on this subject.

“The system is inherently vulnerable,” he said. “It’s spread all across the countryside, which makes the lines and substations easy targets.”

And as the grid expands to include renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, the risks increase. No single entity is responsible for the entire system.   

It will occur so be ready 

The last time our neighborhood had a power outage, I received a recorded message from the utility. It said, “The cause of the power outage was… (drum roll, please) unknown.”

That doesn’t tell me a whole lot. But it does tell me that a power outage can occur anywhere at any time for any reason. Or for no known reason. That’s why it’s important to have back-up power.

You’re going to have another power outage. You don’t know when. You don’t know how long it will last. And you might not ever learn the reason why.

But it’s coming. So be prepared.


  • Diana Trott - February 28, 2023

    Unecpected power outages—that’s why I bought the 1800 and Side Kick. My power went out twice in 2022. Once was because underground lines got severed. It took the city 3 days to fix it.

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