Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fiction Becomes Reality: Why NatGeo's "American Blackout" May Predict Future

Last month the National Geographic Channel aired a two-hour special called American Blackout that dramatized what might happen should the United States come under a cyber attack that disabled the North American power grid.   The program depicted society's gradual descent into chaos as the eastern, Texas, and western grids collapsed when computer hackers managed to crack the systems and insert malicious code into the computers running the grids.  In other words, someone gave the electrical companies' computers a virus that crashed them.  A link to the program web site is here

While there was as all the usual melodrama one might expect of such a production, and of course, keeping with NatGeo's "preppers are nutjobs" attitude the one prepper featured makes several key mistakes that jeopardizes his family's survival, there remains one key question:  could this actually happen?

The answer is yes.   Cyber attacks on government organizations and institutions are more commonplace than we realize.  Officials in Mexico, Canada, and the United States are preparing to conduct a simulation called GridEx2 that presupposes a massive grid failure on the North American continent.   According to, some officials are worried the exercise might "go hot" and cause real power failures.

The scariest part is that for the purposes of the exercise the participants are no longer working under the assumption that the grid can be brought back on line quickly.  According to experts involved, that's simply not true.  Americans could be without power for weeks - a lot of Americans.

According to as story regarding the GridEx2 on
The National Academy of Sciences has warned for decades that that terrorists could destroy the U.S. power grid using EMP attacks. The fact that this has neither happened, nor do we have any public knowledge of such an attack being thwarted is more a testimony to the lack of will amongst enemies of the State, than it is lack of ability.
But former CIA Director R. James Woolsey explained that there are such attempts, but they are not being reported on when they are foiled: “The grid is under attack already, and regularly fending off hacking attempts.”
So, the U.S. electric grid is under threat already, and this could happen.  The U.S. government is already spending $4.5 billion wargaming a response plan with GridEx2.  

The expert panel that worked with National Geographic for the special estimated that over 300,000 fatalities and financial losses totaling 1.2 trillion dollars would occur in a 10-day nationwide blackout.

How bad can it get?  Take this test.  Flip the main breaker in your home's electrical panel.  Pretend there is no power for a weekend.  Just a Friday night and Saturday night.  Cut the power back on at 5 p.m. on Sunday and try to live without power.

For a bigger challenge, cut off the water supply to the house at the meter.  While much of the water supply to individual homes is gravity fed from large storage tanks, electrical pumps and machinery at the treatment plant still have to fill those tanks.  While most facilities have some backup power and resiliency, after a few days generators are going to start running out of fuel.   If you are on a municipal or county sewer service that relies on pumps to move the sewage along, count on that to go out as well.  If your water is supplied by an on site well, the pump that moves the water needs electricity, too.

How would you fare?

No comments:

Post a Comment