The federal government is not prepared for a major electrical emergency such as damage from war, sabotage or terrorism, according to a study to be released today by the General Accounting Office.
The GAO found that little progress has been made in improving the ability of the federal government to respond in such a crisis and noted that cuts have been proposed for funds for the Department of Energy's emergency preparedness program. The study also concluded that states are not prepared to handle such an emergency either.
"While electric power systems are very dependable, they are also highly vulnerable to damage from acts of war, sabotage and terrorism," the GAO said. A long-term power disruption would be likely to have national impact and be on a scale that neither states nor the utilities themselves could handle, according to the study.
The GAO said that the sabotage several weeks ago of an electrical substation on Vancouver Island in Canada underscores the need for emergency planning. The substation was nearly three-quarters completed when it was heavily damaged by approximately 300 sticks of dynamite set off in coordinated explosions.
According to the GAO, damage was so severe that it may result in power being rationed for as much as a year.
Rep. Berkley Bedell (D-Iowa), whose House Small Business subcommittee on energy requested the study, said there have been attacks on facilities in California and Minnesota. Shutting off a major part of the nation's power supply "could bring our society to its knees," he said.
At hearings on the subject of the vulnerability of energy distribution systems earlier this year, Robert Kupperman, executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University, testified that "some of the key chokepoints in the distribution systems in the United States are guarded by no more than a chain-link fence."