Monday, September 12, 2016

Turn out the lights, the party's over....

I've been reading up on the "suggestion" being put out there by some well known, respected sources that it would be wise for us to prepare for a serious protracted interruption to our daily lives.  That interruption could be caused by many different things, but all the various possible scenarios seem to culminate with a major, region-wide power failure.  That is what they say we should be most concerned about.

Remember the major blackout that occurred in the north central and north eastern US and Ontario, Canada back in 2003? That was all due to a fairly simple alarm system failure that caused an overloaded line in Ohio to fail, which quickly cascaded downhill to other nearby systems, and eventually affected 45 million Americans and 10 million Canadians before service was restored several days later.

That was kids play compared to what could happen if "bad guys" learn how to sabotage our electrical grid and knock it out for a few weeks or months.  And by sabotage I mean hackers using a simple computer, from a part of the world where we couldn't trace its origin, to zap key pieces of our electrical infrastructure.  It would be the "perfect crime".  We know it's possible because we've done it ourselves in controlled tests.

This was an early test in 2008.  Since then the dark science of cyber warfare has become exponentially more sophisticated.

Hit the right spots and it could quickly spread and become a region-wide system failure, frying all sorts of electrical choke points, generators, etc.

Imagine this:  If our power went out it wouldn't take people long to realize they didn't have enough food at home to last for more than a few days, so they'd all hit the grocery stores. But how would they pay for what they grabbed up in the dark?  Debit card terminals require electricity.  Cash?  Again, with no electricity, stores couldn't ring up your purchase.  Then it just becomes plain 'ol looting.  Before long cars would be low on gas, but since gas pumps are electric, you'd be screwed there, too.  Soon we'd all be afoot.  

Back home the food in your refrigerator will begin to spoil within half a day.  Your cell phone battery will likely run down pretty fast, and the cell towers, if they have any back-up power at all, will be overloaded.  If it's winter many will begin freezing.  Even homes with natural gas or oil heat still need electricity to power heating system fans.

Most of us have on hand enough non-perishable food to last our family 3-5 days without restocking, and remember, store shelves would have long-since been emptied.  Trucks can't bring in new stock because they're likely out of fuel, too, and besides, traffic will be gridlocked with abandoned cars and inoperable traffic signals the norm.

Assuming you could find someone to accept cash for a purchase, how much cash do you have on hand at any given time?  Fifty dollars?  A few hundred?  When you run out, then what?  You can't go to the bank for a top off, or to an ATM machine, because they're blacked out, too.  About this time desperate people will begin doing desperate things.  First responders will be totally overwhelmed (or back home tending to their own frightened families).  Anarchy will rule.

This is what the experts say could happen if we're not individually prepared to take care of ourselves.  A large power outage of a few days duration could be controlled, but not for a few weeks or months.  And by the time we began to get our affected systems back on line, the bad guys could do it all over again to the same or another region.  (FYI, there are three major US independent regional power grids: Eastern, Western, and Texas.)

This is why our civil authorities are so adamant that we find some way to protect our electric grids.  But with so many different independent electric producers, with thousands (?) of distribution centers, and with a million (?) miles of lines, etc, it's been hard to get everyone on board a common security system.  And it would be expensive....who would pay for it?  If the developed world has an Achilles heel, they say this is probably it.

I'll keep digging and find out what we can reasonably do to prepare ourselves in case of a prolonged electrical failure.  Relax.  I don't mean to scare you, but to prepare you.  Later....



  1. This is why my mother insists on having several thousand dollars on hand in cash for when everything collapses. We have lots of water and dry goods stored in case of an emergency. It's a good idea to think about these things.

  2. Candles, charcoal and fish hooks. There. I'm prepared.

  3. OK, you better tell us now how to best prepare. Because once the power's out, I can't even email you, asking for your list!