The names Nathan Baker, Zackary Randalls, Alex Boschert and William Froelich may not be familiar to you, but their stories are tragically important for utility workers. Nathan worked for East Mississippi Electric Power Association in Clarke County, Mississippi. Zackary was employed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) in Fresno, California. And Alex and William worked for Laclede Gas Co. (LGC) near St. Louis. Except for Alex and William, who were employed by the same company, there is no evidence that these men knew each other or their paths ever crossed, so what thread binds them together? They were murdered while doing their jobs for their respective companies. In a horrible twist of fate, three of the men were killed within a week of each other in 2017.
In 2012, Nathan was making a routine collection/disconnect call at a residence when he was shot; his body was dumped in one location and his truck abandoned in another. In 2017, Zackary was sitting on the passenger side of a PG&E truck when a gunman walked up to the window and fired at him. A few days later, Alex and William were connecting a residential natural-gas line when a man, believed to be upset about his electricity bill, shot the two men and then turned the gun on himself.
These stories are troubling reminders of a trend of violence aimed at utility workers. Utilities go to great lengths to ensure their employees have the skills and training necessary to safely do their jobs, but there has been less of a focus on utility worker security. This has to change. It is time to rethink utility security. From the front door of the office to the crews in the field, we must change how we go about protecting employees. Lives depend on it.
When you mention “utility” and “security” in the same sentence, many people think of cybersecurity or physical security of large-scale infrastructure sites. Many have heard about the cyberattack on the Ukrainian electricity grid in 2015 and know about the steps taken in the U.S. to secure the grid. Some conceptualize utility security as protection against attacks like the one on the PG&E Metcalf substation – a major transmission grid link – that occurred in 2013. Although these are critically important security issues, they are not the only ones. Safety managers and senior staff with safety and security responsibilities also should focus on improving the security posture of utilities at the local level. This means securing office complexes, warehouses and operational facilities; taking steps to target-harden local transmission and distribution; and improving the protection afforded to both office and field personnel, whether company or contractor.