The power grid is the most fragile, and perhaps the most essential, piece of infrastructure in the United States. It is under constant threat of cyberattack, according to a nearly 500-page new report from the Department of Energy.
If there is a power grid down and nothing is done to at least mitigate the extreme risk of cyber warfare, life as we know it could end in America in the very near future.
“The U.S. grid faces imminent danger from cyberattacks,” the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) Task Force report said. “Widespread disruption of electric service because of a transmission failure initiated by a cyberattack at various points of entry could undermine U.S. lifeline networks, critical defense infrastructure, and much of the economy; it could also endanger the health and safety of millions of citizens.”
Power Grid Down
Right after she left office, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano finally admitted a significant cyberattack to the power grid was a matter of “when,” not “if.”
Should the grid be taken down via a natural disaster like a solar flare, a nuclear war, or a cyberattack, the United States does not currently possess either the materials necessary for repairs or the ability to make them.
As noted in the “Transforming the Nation’s Energy System” report, there are a grand total of 21,500 substations and about 700,000 miles of power lines connecting Americans from coast-to-coast to the power grid. Because various private and public entities own and monitor portions of the grid, no streamlined set of regulations for the upkeep and monitoring of cyber attacks exists.
Thousands of private companies that operate various portions of the electricity infrastructure would have to agree on a set of rules and any security overhaul before new standards could be approved and implemented. This makes the entire system, and by extension, all of us, far more vulnerable.
While cyberattacks are increasing in both volume and intensity, officials in charge of the power grid have been extremely slow to respond with effective defensive measures. The SHIELD Act, the first and only real legislation to tackle the power grid protection issue, was left to wither and die in congressional committee more than three years ago.
In 2013 the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the power grid a “D+” grade on its infrastructure report card. That poor mark went unchanged during the 2017 review. In fact, only two pieces of vital infrastructure or governmental system reviewed for the report received higher than a “D” grade – and even then scored only a “C” grade.
According to the ASCE report card, the bulk of our power grid predates the turn of the 20th Century. The majority of the power distribution lines and electric transmission lines were made during the 1950 and 1960s. They had a 50-year life expectancy.
Our power grid is now at least at full capacity, which taxes the system to its breaking point during weather emergencies and the summer months – a perfect time for cyber hackers to attack.
If a massive and coordinated cyberattack also takes down the electric grid in Germany, where most of the needed components are manufactured, it could take YEARS to get the power to come back on in the United States. The death toll from a complete power grid failure would be felt in weeks, not months or years.
During a chat with Dr. William Forstchen, the author of One Second After, we discussed the many ways in which Americans will perish during such a SHTF scenario – and the official government death toll estimations.
The prepping expert and historian and I found the federal government tallies to have neglected to take some significant factors into consideration and the death toll to be more than a little bit low.
There are about 7,000 planes flying over the United States at any given time. An EMP would shut down the power grid AND ruin their control system and send them all diving towards Earth. In the effect of a cyberattack, the control panels inside the planes would still work, but there would be no air traffic controllers or lights on the runway to guide them safely to the ground.
The fires which would result from the crashes and in the following days and weeks for various reasons, would rage essentially unchecked. Once firefighters run out of gasoline, their engines would not be able to roll to the emergency scenes. Police officers, EMTs, and hospitals would face the same fate once their gasoline and generators ran dry.
Rioting and looting would begin in cities the first night of a power grid collapse. Without police officers to keep the bad guys (and bad girls) in check, it would be total chaos. Even decent people would panic when cut off from the food supply.
FEMA has estimated grocery store shelves would empty within three days after a disaster. They are wrong, this too would only take hours – and without fuel, tractor-trailers would not be delivering any more food to the local supermarket.
City dwellers would quickly flee their urban surroundings or perish without food, water, and a way to protect themselves from the marauding hordes. The lucky ones would make it out and walk many miles to reach rural areas where they think they will find food, water, and safety.
Unless these folks are lucky enough to have family along the countryside, they probably won’t like the reception they would receive.
In most places well-armed rural folks will be lining up along the county line to stop strangers, both the nefarious and unthreatening people alike, from converging on their communities. Kindness may only extend so far during a survival situation. Protecting the limited food supply and growing gardens will be a top priority for families in rural communities.
The time to prepare for a power grid failure is now. Whatever the cause of the extreme disaster, the end result will be the same – life without any modern conveniences or assistance from governmental entities.
Stockpiling long-term storage food, weapons, ammo, and off grid tools should only be HALF of your preparedness plan. Skills will be far more valuable than just about any other type of currency – which will no longer be paper money but gold, silver, and precious gems.
What you can do will have an enormous impact of whether you and your family survive. You can “trade” skills just as easily as you can a jar of food, gold, or a warm coat. Forming a prepping group and/or helping your neighbors and community become better prepared and more self-reliant should also be considered.
Urban preppers should connect with a rural prepper or survival group if buying a second piece of land away from the city for a prepper retreat is not financially feasible. Leasing a portion of land in a rural area and placing a camper on it to use as a TEOTWAWKI refuge might also be a life-saver.
Protecting what you have will take numbers – and the better trained and more like-minded the folks toiling along beside your post-SHTF, the better your chances are of surviving, and perhaps ultimately thriving, in the new reality.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 23, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.