Deer Hunter Uncovers Failure of Grid Security

A deer hunter in the woods of suburban Washington ripped into his target earlier this week, and came up with more than he bargained for — insight into the region's lax security of its power plants.

Earlier this week in the woods near Dickerson, Maryland, Mike Edwards shot a small buck.  The deer took off through a thicket and Edwards tracked him — all the way into a clearing in the middle of an operating power plant.

"I was just following my deer through the woods, being an ethical hunter, next thing you know, I'm standing in the middle of a power plant with a shotgun," Edwards, a car mechanic, told Fox News. 

Edwards, who needed to retrieve the deer, went walking through the plant looking for help, and ended up in the Potomac Energy and Power Company's control room, startling two employees.

Edwards said nobody tried to stop him as he walked into PEPCO's power plant with a shotgun, wearing blaze orange hunting gear.

The plant, which provides 835 megawatts of electricity to the nation's capital, is not a nuclear plant, but it's output is enough to light up nearly 14 million 60 watt lamps. It operates on steam turbine engines and feeds its power into the mid-Atlantic operating grid which feeds the capital, said company spokesman Steve Arabia.

He said that Mirant Corporation, which owns PEPCO and several other power companies, is in the midst of a system-wide security evaluation, but Edwards did not penetrate the high-level corridors of PEPCO's system.

"We have different levels of security at different places in the facility, and the really critical areas are manned and they have a higher level of security," Arabia said.

In the wake of Sept. 11 attacks, the question of how vulnerable America is to attack has been brought to bear time and again.  Congress has been grappling with airline security, bioterrorism, border control, and has even conducted hearings on nuclear power plants, but to date, no measures have been taken to safeguard traditional power plants.

Prior to Sept. 11, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, did request the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, the Department of Energy and other agencies to examine the reliability of the nation's energy infrastructure.  Since Sept. 11, that request was updated to recommend legislative proposals, but so far none has been made public.

In the end, a PEPCO employee helped Edwards retrieve his deer, but Edwards still wonders what would have happened had he been a terrorist.

"I could have done anything I wanted to do. I could have walked in there, done anything I wanted to do, turned around and walked out, and nobody would have ever known I was there."