Domestic attacks on electrical infrastructure have become more prominent in the news, in part due to recent headline-worthy occurrences like the gunfire assault on electrical substations in Moore County, North Carolina. And while these events may not be the norm, they do highlight the growing challenge of protecting electrical infrastructure from extremist groups and other malicious actors.

It’s a problem that seems to be on the rise. As CBS News reports, “Physical attacks on the U.S. power grid rose last year by 71%, compared to 2021 and surpassed 2020 figures by 20%. The industry’s preeminent clearinghouse predicts the number of serious incidents will continue to rise this year.” 

Given the looming threat, every substation should be considering this issue and taking action to assess their safeguards against such an attack. From loss of power for potentially thousands of homes and businesses, to major financial impacts on targeted electrical companies, there’s a great deal on the line. So, is your electrical substation prepared?

The Reality of Threats Against the Electrical Grid

In the last few months of 2022 alone, there were attacks on more than a dozen electrical substations, leaving tens of thousands of homes without power—some for several days as temperatures dropped. In addition to the December gunfire event in North Carolina, which suspended power for approximately 45,000 people, Axios reports the following acts against the electrical grid in recent months: 

  • An Oregon substation that was vandalized and damaged on Thanksgiving
  • Substations in Washington state that were attacked by two men, leaving thousands without power on Christmas Day and causing at least $3 million in damage
  • Two electrical transformers bombed in South San Jose at the turn of the year
  • Thwarted plot to destroy Baltimore-area energy infrastructure as part of an alleged “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist” scheme, with charges brought in February

These events illustrate the very real threats mounting against electrical infrastructure across the United States, many originating from extremist individuals and organizations. “Attack-related chatter from domestic violent extremist groups has been on the rise, as has the number of thwarted plots,” according to Homeland Security Today. “Extremist groups use social media, chat rooms, and other platforms to share information and disseminate their ideologies. Much of the chatter has specifically encouraged attacks against substations and other components of the power grid.”

In response to these threats, electrical utilities must be vigilant about assessing and fortifying their protection and response plans. These types of attacks require a layered approach comprising tactics for deterrence, detection and delay. Often, a substation’s first line of defense is its perimeter fencing.

Prioritizing Strength of Construction in Substation Fencing

As the statistics show, electrical substations require a high-level system of ballistic fencing as part of a wider plan to protect against extremist and other forms of attacks. This means opting for solutions that embody strength of materials and construction. Rutkoski Fencing offers—and is a preferred, qualified, certified installer for—the following products:

  • Precast Concrete Walls: These engineered systems are built of reinforced concrete panels that can be customized with different form lines and colors. They are easy to ground and offer ballistic, or bullet-resistant, properties. Perhaps the most impenetrable form of high-security fencing and often the best choice when high-level defense measures are required, they are an optimal solution for electrical substations. Nearly impossible to scale and capable of withstanding winds of hurricane proportions, precast concrete walls offer an extreme level of security effectiveness. They are also more affordable than standard concrete and can be installed on a much shorter timeline. 
  • High-Security Steel Fencing/Gates: These systems integrate steel mesh panels that are hard to climb and cut. High-security mesh panels combine high-quality, low-carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminum alloy steel, and can be PVC coated or galvanized to resist corrosion and weathering. This type of fencing is designed with unique spacing to safeguard against climbing and resist penetration. 
  • Crash Fencing/Gates: These systems add a crash rating component that enables them to protect electrical substations from being penetrated with vehicles.

Rutkoski Fencing is a preferred and trained installer for all the major brands of high-security products, including AMICO®, the world’s largest producer of meshes for security. AMICO® offers the AMIGUARD® 7000 High Security Expanded Steel Mesh—one of the most formidable options for ensuring critical protection in an electrical substation setting. Strands and intersecting strands called bonds form a sharp angle to the original plane of the solid sheet, which creates the unique pattern and allows a single sheet of metal to be processed into several sheets of High Security Mesh Panels. AMIGUARD® 7000 High Security Expanded Metal panels are ideally suited for security fences and gates, and offer critical infrastructure protection.

For mobile substations and when substation construction is being performed, there is also ANC® Non Conductive Temp Fencing from AMICO Security. Electrical utilities often require this type of fencing in emergencies when an existing substation is down or needs maintenance. The mesh has an improved anti-climb and anti-cut rating compared to traditional temporary fencing solutions. Both mesh and framework have been tested to be completely non-conductive, thereby eliminating the need for electrical grounding.

Rutkoski Fencing is also a supplier and installer of Guardiar High Security products, Ameristar products, and Security Gates, Barriers, and Crash Gates by Tymetal.

Critical Fencing Considerations for Electrical Substations

Because reliable protection against extremist attacks on electrical infrastructure requires a multifaceted approach, it’s necessary to consider what additional fencing elements may support your substation’s overall security plan. Any fencing system is demonstrably more secure when reinforced by add-on features that deter intrusion and streamline monitoring. Such elements include barbed wire, barbed tape or concertina wire, lighting and video surveillance, and fortified entry and exit systems or gates.

There’s also the fencing installation process itself. For example, there may be issues with unevenness or sloping to address. In order to ensure a safe and sturdy installation of fencing that weathers the elements to remain strong and steady throughout, it is crucial to have the installation process carried out by an experienced team of security fencing professionals who intimately understand the proper handling of site grading concerns.

Regardless of what fencing solutions your electrical substation will require to optimize security against the types of attacks explored here, it is paramount to partner with a fencing company that intimately understands these needs, is experienced and product-certified in high-security installation procedures and construction methods, and knows the best methods to employ.

Interested in learning about how Rutkoski Fencing can help with your electrical substation fencing project? Download our free brochure to find out more.