Animals, more than hackers, damage electrical infrastructure

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COLUMBIA – Washington D.C. isn’t the only city subject to cyber attacks. Mid-Missouri's power lines are at risk- but not from any hacking group.

Squirrels, birds, and other small animals lay siege to power lines across the country, according to a presentation given at the Shoomcon Security Conference in Washington D.C. by Cris Thomas. Thomas tracks the number of “attacks” on the world's electrical infrastructure through Google Alerts and publishes his findings online.  

His research showed animals caused 14 instances of infrastructure damage in 2016 and 8 in 2015. But that's only a small peek at the real issue.

"In 2015, 12 percent of all outages was a result of wildlife that were somehow interacting with the electric lines," Chris Rohlfing, the manager of member services at Boone Electric Cooperative, said.

Rohlfing explained animals often short out the equipment when they get too close. 

The Columbia Water and Light department faces similar challenges.  

"By far mother nature is the electric utilities' worst enemy," Connie Kacprowicz, Columbia Water and Light spokesperson, said.  

"There have been times that we've had, like over the fall, three outages in one morning due to squirrel activity."

Both Columbia Water and Light and the Boone County Electric Cooperative use devices to prevent animals from from damaging the machinery.  Kacprowicz and Rohfling both stated that moving lines underground would create considerable costs for all parties involved, but tree trimming was a main form of preventative measures.