Why terror groups are targeting power grids, and what can be done to stop it

This week, the FBI arrested an Orlando man accused of planning an attack on a power grid in Maryland.

There was also an incident just this past December where thousands of people were left in the dark after people shot up two power substations in North Carolina. 

Experts say targets on our power grids are becoming more and more common. 

That news surprised many passersby FOX 35 News chatted with on Tuesday.

"That’s insane to me," Omar Melendez told us. "I wouldn’t expect that." 

"It’s a soft target, and if that’s what they’re going after, we need to make sure we’re upping the game on that," reasoned Chris Jones.

In talking about this problem, we heard multiple people ask how companies would protect against those attacks.

FOX 35 posed that question to former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers, who used to work with the FBI. 

"A couple of things," Rogers answered. "We can make the cost of doing it very hard – meaning, if we catch you, you’re going to jail for a very long time. We found that has worked in the past with other crimes that rise up. Secondly, redundancy on our systems." 

The Orlando Utilities Commission told FOX 35 in a statement that it "Takes all types of security – physical and cyber – seriously, and has devoted significant resources to safeguard its infrastructure." 

OUC said it couldn’t go into further detail because of security concerns.

Duke Energy, the largest provider in the country, says it’s making 75 billion dollars in security enhancements. 

Its team told us,  

Rogers says the attacks can be extremely impactful. 

"Your credit card doesn’t work, no online banking; anything you want to do that uses electricity gets disrupted. It’s more than just inconvenient – people lose food stores in their refrigerators and freezers. And the fact that some people have a hard time getting through without air conditioning. Hospitals have generators and big stores have generators, but not everyone can afford a generator."

"Thinking of not having power is kind of terrifying in and of itself, because it’s kind of the backbone of what we rely on," said Jones.

The next questions is why these terror groups target power companies, rather than aiming for something that would only impact a specific group of people. 

"I do think they like the ability to be able to go back to their followers and say, ‘Look at the chaos we created. We did this. WE did something meaningful – we turned out the lights on 100,000 people," said Rogers. 

Even explaining the steps companies are taking to keep their systems safe, people like Leah Depodesta still seemed nervous at the prospect of the attacks.  

"It’s surprising to hear," said Depodesta. "It’s scary."