One of the realities of modern living is how utterly dependent we’ve all become on having a steady supply of electricity in our homes and places of work. Few Americans know what it would be like, or are prepared to cope, with a prolonged power outage.
We’re not talking hours here. We’re talking days or even weeks with no electricity.
While it might seem a remote possibility, in truth, it happens with surprising frequency in this country – usually connected with an extreme, but localized weather event such as a hurricane, tornado, or ice storm. For coastal residents from Texas to New England, it isn’t unheard of to be without power for a week or longer after a major hurricane.
An even bigger concern is a massive grid failure, either due to a natural event (solar flare, CME or other natural disaster), cyber or criminal attack, or simply an overload of an ageing power distribution system.
While it might be easy to dismiss this as just another improbable disaster movie, I can assure you that everyone from FEMA to the CDC to Homeland Security takes this threat seriously. This week, the CDC’s Public Health Matters blog discusses tonight’s movie, and the need for Americans to be prepared for prolonged power outages.
October 24th, 2013 10:46 am ET - Blog Administrator
By Kristen Nordlund
This Sunday night there might be a few things vying for your attention – it’s Game 4 of the World Series, the Packers face the Vikings, and there’s a new episode of The Walking Dead. In addition to sports and the undead, the National Geographic Channel is debuting a movie about what happens when the lights go out. Literally.
American Blackout chronicles five groups of people during a ten-day power outage caused by cyber criminals. How realistic is this scenario? Considering that since 2000 there have been more than 60 wide-scale power outages, including one in India lasting two days and affecting 670 million people, and it might not seem so far-fetched.
It is the job of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to "ensure the reliability of the North American bulk power system", a mandate given to it in 2006 as a result of the 2003 Northeast blackout which affected more than 50 million people in the United States and Ontario, Canada.
In April of 2009, NERC issued a public notice warning that the grid was `vulnerable’ to cyber attack, and that same year the National Academy of Sciences produced a 134 page report on the potential damage that a major solar flare could cause in Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts (see Solar Storms, CMEs & FEMA).
Which is why NERC will be conducting a massive drill in mid-November, to determine their ability to respond to a full grid-down situation, caused by a cyber-attack. This is to be a simulated attack, and no power outages are planned for this exercise.
Admittedly, no one knows when, or even if, a major grid failure will occur. Just like we don’t know what next spring’s tornado season will bring, when the next major earthquake or CAT 5 hurricane will strike, or whether a devastating pandemic is in the offing in the next few years.
What we do know, is that major disasters happen every year, and affect millions of people. And those who are better prepared to deal with them, generally have an easier time of it.
Sadly, too few people take preparedness seriously, as evidenced by the numbers in this CDC Infographic.
Last September was National Preparedness Month (NPM2013), and I, along with many other coalition members, devoted a good deal of time towards spreading the preparedness message.
The goal of NPM2013 is to foster a culture of national preparedness, and to encourage everyone to plan and be prepared to deal with any disaster where they can go at least 72 hours without electricity, running water, local services, or access to a supermarket.
These are, of course, minimum goals.
Disruptions that accompany hurricanes, floods, pandemics, and yes . . . even massive grid down scenarios . . can potentially last for days or even weeks, and so – if you are able to do so - being prepared for 10 days to 2 weeks makes a good deal of sense (see When 72 Hours Isn’t Enough).
While a 100% failure of the grid may be far down your list of `probable’ threats, the common sense steps you take to prepare for any disaster will serve you well during a prolonged blackout. For more on `all hazards’ preparedness, I’d invite you to visit:
AMERICAN RED CROSS http://www.redcross.org/
And you can use this link to read earlier NPM preparedness posts on this blog.