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The Constant Threat of Terrorism

While terrorism is a relatively new, man-made threat, utilities plan for it at the same time as they’re planning for natural disasters. "We’ve checked out terrorism scenarios, and work closely with local police, the FBI, and Homeland Security," says PG"E’s Coker. "There isn’t anything they’ve told us that indicates that PG"E could be targeted, but still you have to be prudent and on guard." Primary employees, particularly in critical substations or near transmission lines or backbone facilities, are trained to be more observant and report suspicious behavior, he says.

Even a suspected terrorist attack can be a problem, Coker points out. Earlier in 2005, an underground vault explosion in San Francisco, near where PG"E had an underground transformer, was thought at first possibly to be terrorist-related; because the area was cordoned off as a possible crime scene, it was two to three hours before the company could go in and restore the transformer.

The threat of terrorism has also made some companies more reticent about revealing details of their contingency plans. Verizon provides telephone service to major East Coast cities such as Washington, D.C. and New York City. While the company acknowledges it has backup power in all central office switches, and constant monitoring, no other details are provided, "for obvious security reasons," according to spokeswoman Christy Reap.

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