What would happen if a cyberattack shut down the entire American power grid, causing a catastrophic 10-day blackout? No electricity. No cell phone service. No gasoline. No fresh food or clean water. And no way out.
In American Blackout, Nat Geo imagines just this scenario where the power grid goes down nationwide and doesn’t come back up for ten days. It is a scary proposition. We can all imagine ways to get around a local power outage that lasts for days. In fact, it isn’t a rare occurrence after a hurricane or other major disaster. Maybe you have to deal with the inconvenience of moving in with relatives outside of the blackout zone. However, if the power goes out across the country there won’t be a safe haven for anyone.
That would never happen though, right? ….According to experts it could.
Could a Cyberattack Happen?
The Council on CyberSecurity states, “As the Internet has expanded into nearly every aspect of our daily lives, we have become increasingly vulnerable to the threat of cyber-attacks targeting the nation’s electrical infrastructure.” Maybe you are just envisioning how to manage food and water, but a massive cyberattack could result in the loss of power to your home, Internet service provider, and bank. The effects of a national outage would be crippling. So what do you do?
In order to reduce your vulnerability in the event of a cyber-attack targeting the nation’s power grid, the Council on CyberSecurity and the Stop.Think.Connect.™ Campaign recommend the following measures:
- Confirm the potential problem through an alternative, authoritative source (e.g., Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website, Emergency Broadcast System, other local civil authority.)
- Disconnect computer from the Internet in order to mitigate the spread of malware.
- Immediately run anti-malware tools on each computer.
- Preserve your digital information by storing it in a removable physical medium such as a thumb drive or external hard drive
- Set strong passwords, change them regularly, and don’t share them with anyone.
- Keep your operating system, browser, and other critical software optimized by installing updates.
- Use privacy settings and limit the amount of personal information you post online.
How Vulnerable is the Electric Grid?
So maybe cyberattacks are a possibility, but it is not our only worry. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) our current electrical system is already stretched to its limit and in need of critical upgrades. According to ASCE, if we want to avoid an American Blackout, we must prioritize improvements to the reliability and vitality of our nation’s energy grid.
In the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, ASCE awarded the nation’s Energy sector a D+. This is bad news for our electrical system. The challenges faced by the Energy sector include:
- Relying on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution system, some of which originated in the 1880s.
- Decreasing availability of energy as the population increases after 2020.
- Permitting and siting issues threatening the completion of about 17,000 miles of planned high-voltage transmission lines and significant oil and gas pipelines over the next five years.
Without meeting the controllable needs of our electrical grid, if the lights go out, we may be waiting a while for them to come back on.
If the Power Goes Down—Then What?
If suddenly there is no electricity, we are all going to have to be prepared and organized for the crisis in our own homes. If you have never considered this a real possibility, then now is the time to take it serious. Make sure you have stores of nonperishable food and especially water in your home. If you are set for supplies, the other problem is going to be communication. The American Red Cross notes that a non-cordless telephone is likely to work during a power outage. They suggest keeping one in your home just in case. You can get more useful preparedness tips from our friends at the American Red Cross.
Another issue that will arise over a long period without running water, fuel and refuse removal is going to be disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some excellent health tips both to prepare and to deal with a crisis. The CDC points out that personal preparedness should include immunizing yourself and family against vaccine-preventable diseases. They also suggest that we:
- Prepare by getting a kit, making a plan, and being informed. You can find ideas and information at the CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response website’s Preparation & Planning page.
- To prevent spreading respiratory disease, wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
In modern times, the possibility of a power-based crisis is very real. Would your family struggle in a national outage? Watch American Blackout on Sunday October 27 at 9PM et/pt and give some thought to how to survive in the dark.