Northwest power grid, water supply under tight security : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

September 22, 2001 Northwest power grid, water supply under tight security

PORTLAND (AP) - In the days following the East Coast terrorist attacks, power plants and waterworks in the Northwest are on "high alert" for similar situations.

Experts in terrorist behavior have identified dams, bridges, power and communications systems as the most likely terrorist targets in the Northwest, prompting the changes. No facilities have received any threats thus far.

The FBI issued a terrorist threat advisory last week to water providers and operators of other "critical infrastructure," urging them to boost security.

The Pacific Northwest's hydroelectric dams will be closed indefinitely, as will the visitor's center at the Bonneville Dam and other, smaller dams.

Regional water suppliers have increased water testing and video surveillance. The city, which owns the two Bull Run reservoirs near Mount Hood, may speed up building projects that would decrease the system's vulnerability. The Bull Run provides drinking water for 800,000 people in the Portland area.

"The world as we knew it is going to change," said Mike Hansen, a spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that delivers 46 percent of the electricity used in the Northwest. "The days of being totally open about the entire system are over."

Spokesmen for PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric, both Portland-based utilities, reported their companies and facilities were in a "heightened state of alert."

The region's only nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, Wash., went to its highest level of security short of response to an actual attack on Sept. 11, even before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered top-level security at all the nation's nuclear power plants.

"Security is now increased," said Don McManman, a spokesman for the plant. "We've done things that you can imagine and done many things you probably wouldn't even dream of."

Normal security includes gun-toting guards, razor wire fences and electronic motion detectors.

Terrorism experts said dams and other regional facilities are natural targets in this region.

"Dams are a logical target because of the disruption they'd cause and the publicity they'd get," said Gary Perlstein, a Portland State University professor and author of "Perspectives on Terrorism."

Water supply was one of eight critical infrastructures identified in 1998 by a presidential directive designed to reduce the nation's vulnerability to attack.

The potential threats range from cutting off water supplies to infiltration of computer controls to contamination. Experts have concluded that the public's biggest fear -- a large-scale contamination of water supplies by terrorists using biological weapons -- would be extraordinarily difficult to pull off.

"We can basically turn the Bull Run off if we identify something going on," said Mark Knudson, the bureau's director of operations and maintenance.

Security experts said the region's electricity supply is not vulnerable to a single attack because production is split between different locations.

The Grand Coulee Dam, for example, is the Northwest's single largest electricity producer, yet generates only 11 percent of the 21,540 average megawatts produced in the region.

Still, utilities across the nation have every reason to be alarmed and on alert, said Ellen Vancko, a spokesman for the North American Electric Reliability Council in Princeton, N.J.

"We now have to imagine things that we have not had to imagine before," she said.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 23, 2001

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