N.J. utilities, responding to N.C. incident, say security of facilities is top priority

The attack on a power transmission site in Moore County, North Carolina, is wreaking havoc in the state — and has the governor suggesting more needs to be done to protect the state’s infrastructure.

The incident, which took place this weekend, has knocked out power for approximately 45,000 people, caused issues with water infrastructure and kept kids home from school on Monday — and likely Tuesday.

“These kind of things cannot happen,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference. “We cannot tolerate this type of widespread power outage to so many people.”

The incident is being investigated as a potential terrorist act — which is a worst-case scenario for utilities.

In New Jersey, it does not appear as if the incident has led to any immediate changes in policy or security. The reason: Companies said security already is a top priority.

“Safety and security are of the utmost importance to PSEG,” spokesperson Marijke Shugrue of Public Service Enterprise Group said. “We regularly monitor and inspect all of our critical facilities, and we engage with local, state and federal officials on our security procedures.

“We also continually review events that happen with other utilities to identify any learnings. We will do the same with this event.”

Due to the sensitive nature of security, utility companies are hesitant to discuss their security plans.

First Energy, the parent company of Jersey Central Power & Light, said the company is prepared in New Jersey and the five other mid-Atlantic states it serves.

“We’re constantly using real-time monitoring to detect any potential physical or cybersecurity threats to the grid, and we follow rigorous procedures and standards that protect the grid by improving reliability and reducing the impact of potential threats,” spokesperson Will Boye said.

“A wide variety of surveillance, deterrence, physical and technology measures are in place, and we continually invest to ensure our protective measures are robust. In addition, we practice our response in numerous drills throughout the year, partnering with other utilities, response organizations and regulators to ensure we are prepared should a threat materialize.”

Atlantic City Electric, part of the Exelon family of companies, said the company is continually monitoring its sites.

“We work throughout the year and invest to ensure our energy grid, systems and locations are secured and protected, both in terms of cyber and physical security,” spokesperson Amber Burruezo said. “Each year, we complete hundreds of tasks, including inspecting and enhancing existing electric equipment, installing new smart equipment to help reduce outages, and performing necessary tree trimming to maintain and advance reliability.

“Our Emergency Response Organization also conducts regular drills and collaborates with government and industry partners to develop and deploy new ways to address constantly evolving threats and protect the safe, reliable service our customers expect.”

Burruezo said Atlantic City Electric’s Emergency Preparedness and Security personnel are in regular contact with numerous state and local security agencies and other key stakeholders, too.

It’s still unclear what happened in North Carolina. But it certainly got the attention of the CEO-led Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, which serves as the principal liaison between senior federal officials and electric power industry leaders on efforts to prepare for, and respond to, national-level disasters or threats to critical infrastructure.

It issued the following statement: “Protecting our nation’s energy grid is a top priority shared by the electric power industry and our government partners at all levels. We strongly condemn the attacks on critical energy infrastructure in Moore County, N.C., and we are working closely with the local, state and federal law enforcement officials who are investigating these attacks.

“In the wake of this weekend’s criminal events, we appreciate the ongoing collaboration of our federal partners and their level of outreach to ensure that the entire energy industry maintains a vigilant and secure posture. Understanding what happened in North Carolina will be important to minimize future threats and to keep our industry’s defenses at the forefront.”

Cooper said North Carolina is ready to adjust as needed.

“We know that there may be some things that need to change to make sure our infrastructure is protected,” he said.