Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Power Grid Down!

A Devastating Power Outage Is Possible
If you want a vision of real "gloom and doom" take a moment and ponder the possibility of a devastating cyber-attack on America's power grid. Being a believer in several of the ideas and theories presented by writers like Nicolas Taleb, author of the best sellers "The Black Swan" and later a book titled "Antifragile" it is not unusual that I might find Ted Koppel's new book interesting. The book titled "Lights Out", reveals that a cyber-attack on America's power grid is not only possible but likely and that we as both a country and as a culture are shockingly unprepared for such an occurrence. In fact, our whole society has become based on what we consider an unending flow of current that allows us to live lives of comfort. There is no question that the moment the lights go out everything would change and both our country and economy would immediately be forced into survival mode. 

emember when, not so long ago, much of the Mainstream Media was mocking people who stocked up on emergency supplies ("preppers") in case of a catastrophe as a bunch of "rightwing" survivalist kooks wearing tinfoil hats? Well, it now appears that Ted Koppel is wearing a tinfoil hat because he is warning about a possible apocalyptic catastrophe that could knock out the nation's power grid for up to two years and is recommending that people stock up on emergency supplies.
Such recommendations are made in his recently published book
- See more at: http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/pj-gladnick/2015/11/03/lights-out-has-ted-koppel-become-rightwing-survivalist#sthash.si3pNcrA.dpuf
emember when, not so long ago, much of the Mainstream Media was mocking people who stocked up on emergency supplies ("preppers") in case of a catastrophe as a bunch of "rightwing" survivalist kooks wearing tinfoil hats? Well, it now appears that Ted Koppel is wearing a tinfoil hat because he is warning about a possible apocalyptic catastrophe that could knock out the nation's power grid for up to two years and is recommending that people stock up on emergency supplies.
Such recommendations are made in his recently published book
- See more at: http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/pj-gladnick/2015/11/03/lights-out-has-ted-koppel-become-rightwing-survivalist#sthash.si3pNcrA.dpuf
Ted Koppel the veteran newsman and the former anchor of ABC’s Nightline has written a book that delves into how we have grown accustomed to cyber-attacks but makes the point that we have never had a cyber-attack that amounts to a weapon of mass destruction. In the past attacks have resulted in grand larceny or what amounts to the huge vacuuming of intelligence information. In a television interview, Koppel said, "My point is that if someone succeeds in taking down one of our power grids, and the Russians and the Chinese can do it and maybe the Iranians and the North Koreans, it would be devastating." In the past when the lights go out it is usually because of Mother Nature and we have always managed to get through it. But what if the power went out in a number of states affecting millions of people for weeks, even months?  In "Lights Out," Koppel paints a grim picture of a paralyzing power outage in the form of an all-out cyber-attack on the nation's electrical grid.

We Are Totally Unprepared For This!
Koppel says that for about three years a number of our top leaders, including the president have warned of those who are trying to get into our infrastructure, especially the power grid. He points out that the president twice mentioned the issue in successive State of the Union addresses, but did not dwell on the risk. The secretary of defense at the time, Leon Panetta, called the threat of a cyber-attack on the power grid potentially a cyber-Pearl Harbor.  Koppel interpreting the statement as important also noted that nobody was paying any attention to it. This became the motivation for his book, as he wondered, A:) are these people just exaggerating for reasons I don’t quite understand, and, B:) if they’re not, what is the government doing to prepare for it and to prepare the public for it? His instinct told him that the answer was going to be "not much", and when he researched the matter it turned out to be closer to the truth than we might think and this is not an exaggeration.

The power grid is the system that connects North America's supply of electricity so that if one area has particularly heavy demand, power from another region can serve as back-up. The downside to all this is that because it is interconnected if a hacker manages to take down an entire grid, a huge portion of America along with parts of Canada could lose power. The electric grid operates as a series of networks that are defined by geography, failure in one place can cause failure in another place, which can cascade into a collapse of the system in a large area. On August 14, 2003, a power line in Ohio overheated, causing a widespread blackout that affected over 50 million people, it lasted up to four days in some areas. After talking to many people, including the last four heads of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense Koppel got the sense that none of them knew what to do if such an event were to occur. More frightening might be that several of them know that the likelihood of it happening is great. When Koppel spoke to Janet Napolitano just after she left after five years on the job as secretary of homeland security he asked the question, what do you think the chances are of a cyber-attack on the power grid? She said very, very high, 80 to 90 percent.

Apparently, the conversation with Jeh Johnson, who currently runs Homeland Security and was trying to be more optimistic also failed to be very reassuring. Koppel said, "It didn’t go well, because, on the one hand, he conceded that the likelihood of a cyber-attack on the power grid is great. On the other hand, when I said, OK, what’s the plan? You’re the secretary of homeland security. He sort of dismissed it and said, well, as long as you have a radio with extra batteries." When Koppel pressed him it became clear that even while most people view formulating a plan for such an event as the responsibility of the government he found that they haven’t taken that responsibility very seriously, or at least have not come up with a solution yet. At issue is the fact we must deal with this the possibility of the power grid failing, but, and because we don’t know of any way to do so we have totally avoided the matter.

The Economy Would Grind To A Halt!
As to fears he will be dismissed as a doomsayer Koppel indicated he was more worried if people later found out what he had discovered and done nothing it would be a greater ill. Knowing there is not a plan, and that mass evacuations from places like Manhattan can't be done because we have a situation of too many people and no place to put them must give us pause. The author spends three chapters of the book dealing with the Mormons because after 200 years of being driven from pillar to post they are the one group that has learned how to survive in difficult situations. Noting that they are probably about as well-prepared as any large group in the country. The one thing the Mormons do that he would recommend to Americans would be they put away a three to six months supply of food and water.  While he understands that there are tens of millions of people in this country who can barely afford to put food on the table every day he recommends that those who can afford it stock up.

Koppel takes the stand that if people do that and if the government has a backlog of freeze-dried food, which lasts up to 25 years, we can probably survive something like this, if not, there will be thousands of fatalities. Towards the end of the book, the well-respected veteran newsman quite provocatively lays out the case that in addition to all the wonderful things that it does the internet can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Also, he makes it clear a major worry is it would not require a foreign government to cause such a scenario to unfold, nor would someone need a ton of money to do it. Someone sufficiently skilled in cyber-warfare, using an individual laptop, can inflict enormous damage. He was told by the man who was the former chief scientist for the National Security Agency, that he believes there are individual groups, possibly a group like ISIS that could buy the expertise, and that the equipment they need is available off the shelf. This makes his warning a very scary prospect.

Those of us that have suffered through a few days without electricity will testify that it changes everything. Because I'm responsible for a number of buildings and the comforts of the tenants that fill them I'm very aware of the many problems that quickly surface when electricity takes leave. Elevators stop, alarms fail, pump systems, refrigeration, hot water, heating, cooling, communication breakdowns, and more grind to a halt. People can't work when businesses are forced to close, and cars don't move without fuel, even city water supplies stop flowing. Trillions of dollars of paper wealth based on "faith" in the system would vanish in the blink of an eye. The ugly bottom line is that because everything is intertwined and dependent on electricity in some way or form few things would work. If this occurs we can only pray it comes during a season when mother nature has blessed us with reasonable weather that won't rush to test our limits. My experience has taught me few Americans today softened by city life have the training and knowledge that they can flush a toilet with a bucket of water, my point is that overall we are a helpless lot.

Few among us have researched the topic of grid failure to any degree, so I will defer to Mr. Koppel when he suggests that if and when the lights go off because of such an attack, that they will remain off for quite some time, and that power will be difficult to restore. I also cannot easily brush aside his worries and find myself troubled that nobody in the government has rushed to call his claims false. Koppel has no history of bantering about revelations that "the sky is falling" give credence that his concerns and warning should be given valid consideration. If such an event would occur in the cold of winter the death toll would be staggering, and I guarantee the government would be utterly paralyzed. I have done a fair amount of reading on this topic and suggest it might be wise or for others to do the same, and if they plan to do their search by a computer they might want to do so before the lights go out.


Footnote; To those of you familiar with this blog you know that often the topics I write about are of an economic nature, below are a few articles that can be tied in with or are related to this article. As always your comments are welcome and encouraged.
 http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2014/07/government-pandering-in-disasters-great.html
 http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2014/08/where-wealth-is-held.html

emember when, not so long ago, much of the Mainstream Media was mocking people who stocked up on emergency supplies ("preppers") in case of a catastrophe as a bunch of "rightwing" survivalist kooks wearing tinfoil hats? Well, it now appears that Ted Koppel is wearing a tinfoil hat because he is warning about a possible apocalyptic catastrophe that could knock out the nation's power grid for up to two years and is recommending that people stock up on emergency supplies.
Such recommendations are made in his recently published book
- See more at: http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/pj-gladnick/2015/11/03/lights-out-has-ted-koppel-become-rightwing-survivalist#sthash.si3pNcrA.dpuf


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