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Fear of the Dark

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by tulianr, Nov 11, 2013.

  1. tulianr

    tulianr Don Quixote de la Monkey


    Published: November 9, 2013

    TWO years ago, the first time the government and the utility industry held an emergency drill to simulate a cyber attack on the nation’s power grid, 75 agencies and utilities showed up. For a second drill next week, organizers are expecting more than 200.

    But it is not just the utility industry and the government that are increasingly concerned about threats to the grid. The widespread failures caused by Hurricane Sandy last year are still fresh in the minds of many Americans — especially those on the East Coast. “In areas of the country where hurricanes are not terribly frequent, like New York,” said Jay Apt, the executive director of the Electricity Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, “it is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, and that makes a big impression on folks.”

    Energy in general is something people like to worry about, said Mr. Apt, and grid failure is the latest target of that anxiety. “It echoes the ‘peak oil’ theme,” he said, referring to the alarmist concern, especially before the advent of fracking, that oil supplies had peaked and were about to shrink, with catastrophic results.

    The idea of a sustained blackout resonates in the public’s mind, agreed David Ropeik, an expert on risk perception, particularly because it could come from either cyberattack, physical attack by terrorists or even Mother Nature as a side effect of solar flares. “It is one of those low-probability, high-consequence events that every once in awhile scares the bejesus out of us,” he said.

    Grid failure, he added, is “the risk du jour.”

    It sure seems that way, given the rising chatter on the web, radio talk shows and in popular media. In a made-for-TV movie, “American Blackout,” broadcast late last month by National Geographic, hackers bring down the power grid for 10 days and the country descends into “Lord of the Flies” savagery. NBC’s hit post-apocalyptic series “Revolution” is set in America 15 years after the lights have gone out all over the world, and Hollywood has also dabbled with grid angst as a plot device, notably with the 2007 Bruce Willis movie “Live Free or Die Hard.”

    In the recent novel “Gridlock,” Byron L. Dorgan, a former senator from North Dakota, and his co-author, David Hagberg, spin a tale of a rogue Russian agent recruited by Iran and Venezuela to hire an anarchist hacker to bring down the grid in a harrowing series of rolling blackouts. And in William R. Forstchen’s 2009 novel, “One Second After,” bad guys cripple the grid with three small nuclear explosions in the upper atmosphere.

    A couple of broader forces may be helping to stoke the growing awareness of grid vulnerability. For one thing, the 2009 stimulus package pumped billions of dollars into “smart meters,” so many Americans now realize that their electric meters, formerly boring gray metal boxes clamped to the side of the house, are essentially computers that can backfire on them if hacked. And as more and more people see their email accounts, credit cards and even their identities hijacked, they can imagine what else hackers are capable of doing.

    Real life, at least so far, has been a bit tamer, but still dramatic. Bad software and bad management blacked out 50 million people from Detroit to New York City in August 2003, in an event so complicated it took engineers weeks to reconstruct what had happened. Technician error in Arizona in September 2011 blacked out seven million people in California. And Hurricane Sandy destroyed power lines and blacked out about 20 million people, many for more than a week.

  2. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    Yup, about the only thing separating modern human culture from absolute anarchy is electricity --at least for a time. Certainly, the military are prepared to an extent. Regardless of what 'may' happen, most folks wouldn't know what to do with no electricity. Most people today are attached to their phones like their lives depended on it, and probably couldn't carry on a conversation beyond two sentences without feeling awkward. I know there are exceptions, there always is. In Florida during hurricane season, I recall going many days at a time without electricity. Some communities could rebuild and thrive for a time in a much larger blackout, but TIME is the crucial element in this equation, and along with it, time of year and the place. Up north in the winter, a full scale blackout is deadly serious. Nationwide, there could be too much for law enforcement to handle alone. Even with military support, the task of keeping the peace could prove to be impossible. Remember, without communications, the people are not receiving their daily dose of normalcy and instruction. Who can say for certain what would happen?
    stg58, Yard Dart, Tracy and 2 others like this.
  3. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    It just isn't Electricity, it is the whole Energy Infrastructure, that would fail if the Grid died..... No Gasoline at the pumps. No Diesel, or Stove Oil, either.... During winter in northern climes, the only energy available, would be Natural Gas, where those pipelines service. People in cities, would start burning down their own houses, just for the heat.
    tulianr, stg58, Sapper John and 2 others like this.
  4. Silversnake

    Silversnake Silverback

    Good comment. I could see people looting abandoned houses for the frames, flooring, rafters, etc. for fuel.
    stg58 and Tracy like this.
  5. DKR

    DKR Interesting ideas, interesting stories

    I can guess what would happen, and I wrote a book series about it. I've posted chapters for the World of the Chernyi. One of the points I make time and again is population collapse - due to a combination of violence and starvation. Once the survivors in big urban areas empty out like a plague of locusts, all bets are off.

    Whole areas of the US will be unaffected for some time. And most of central and south America might not even be aware something happened. until their relative come back home...

    People used to worry about The Bomb. Now they worry about a whole host of things they also have little to no control over - blackouts, poison in the water system, bad food, etc, etc.

    I've settled for worrying about the basics (food, heat, water, etc) and hope for the best.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2013
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