Dominion Urges Citizens to Report Suspicious Activity

PG&E’s Metcalf substation, where a sniper attack knocked out 17 transformers. Photo credit: Wall Street Journal

Dominion Energy issued an unusual press release a couple of days ago, urging customers to “report suspicious activity.”

“Suspicious activity includes anything from someone recording or monitoring Dominion Energy facilities to someone who doesn’t seem like they belong in a certain area or is behaving strangely,” said Marc Gaudette, Director of Corporate Security, Safety and Health. “What may seem like a small piece of information could be the missing piece of the puzzle that law enforcement needs to prevent an unexpected event.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Dominion, like other electric utilities, finds itself in a difficult situation. On the one hand, it is rightfully concerned about the threats to the integrity of the electric grid at the hands of terrorists or other saboteurs. The electric power industry has been on hyper alert ever since a 2014 sniper attack on Pacific Gas & Electric’s Metcalf Transmission Substation, which severely damaged 17 transformers and forced the utility to reroute electric power in order to avoid blackouts. The situation is all the more urgent for Dominion, which has shut down two of three of its Yorktown Power Stations, leaving the Virginia Peninsula more vulnerable than usual to blackouts should an accident knock out a transmission line on a hot-weather day with elevated electricity demand.

Dominion cannot survey every substation or every mile of transmission line 24/7, and it makes sense to call upon the public if someone sees something suspicious. As the press release states: “”Think security and safety… If you spot something suspicious, speak up. … Act as our eyes and ears and report any suspicious activity near a Dominion Energy facility by calling 1-800-684-8486. Of course, in an emergency you should always call 911.”

Dominion’s problem is that it can’t get too specific about what to look out for. For one, the utility doesn’t want to generate unnecessary public alarm by exaggerating the threat. Even more important, the company doesn’t want to tip the hand of any potential bad guys by getting too specific about what to look for, thus revealing potential vulnerabilities.

The result of these conflicting imperatives leaves people unclear about what exactly they should be looking for. But a half-informed citizenry is preferable to a totally uninformed citizenry. And, given the stakes involved, false alarms are preferable to no alarms. I live near an electric transmission line and substation, which I routinely ignore. Now, I’ll be keeping an eye out for… whatever…. I’m not quite sure. But better safe than sorry.

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5 responses to “Dominion Urges Citizens to Report Suspicious Activity

  1. They probably need to expand their definition of suspicious activity to include anything suspicious, such as wiring modifications to steal power, or power line problems. I had noticed some funny things a few years ago (on my bike rides) and I called Dominion but they did not follow up and fix the issues. If they had worked with me and called me back, I would have taken them to show them some funny wiring things. Now I’ll have to ride back there and see if the problems are still there. They finally fixed one low hanging wire on a main road, that fell off the support loop, but 2-years after my call.

    Anyway I would view it like police work, you have to focus on the little things if you want to prevent the bigger things.

  2. what problems do we currently have ? Or is Dominion becoming paranoid about potential pipeline/coal ash/NA3 “terrorists”?


    don’t get me wrong .. there are LOTs of potential boogeymen “out there” from weaponized drones dive-bombing NA and Surry to cyber ransomware attacks on Dominion – even PJMs – computer systems!

  3. “Suspicious activity includes anything from someone recording or monitoring Dominion Energy facilities to someone who doesn’t seem like they belong in a certain area or is behaving strangely”

    That would seem to describe the action of those who have been fighting Amazon and Dominion with regard to the Haymarket Power Line. Then again, the only way anybody was able to garner intel on what they were actually doing was to do some online and boots on the ground snooping.

    That online and physical snooping of course (to include aerial photographs) is largely what led to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) weighing in on the matter and noting that:

    “During the SCC review of the Dominion transmission line, information was provided that the construction of the transmission line would likely have an adverse effect on four Civil War battlefields.”

    Leading to the following questions:

    1. “Has the Corps considered the effects of the construction of the new transmission line as it relates to the data center undertaking?”

    2. “How has the Corps’ considered the long term and cumulative effects resulting from this undertaking that is directly and necessarily linked to the current permit review?”

    Thus its adopted position “Due to the procedural issues associated with the Section 106 review for this undertaking and the controversial nature of the project and associated transmission line for the community, the ACHP will
    formally enter this consultation.”

    All because a couple of nosy, busy-bodies were recording or monitoring Amazon/Dominion Energy facilities and in the estimation of security guards “behaving strangely” because they had the audacity to film or take pictures from the public right-of-way. Curiously, when they threatened to call law enforcement, those busy-bodies generally waited for the police to show up and when they did not, provided addresses, phone numbers and license numbers so as to make law enforcement’s job a little easier.

  4. NERC leans heavily on all electric utilities to maintain reliability standards, which includes hardening infrastructure against cyber attack and physical sabotage. Because of security implications, no one talks about this very much.

  5. In a follow up to the announcement Dominion confirmed that any person using a high powered sniper’s rifle to ventilate electrical transmission equipment should be considered suspicious.

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