By Douglas MacKinnon
Originally Published Jun 23, 2019
There are many seemingly never-ending debates: Republicans vs. Democrats; impeach vs. don’t impeach; capital punishment vs. life in prison; wall vs. no wall; legalizing marijuana vs. not; self-driving cars vs. human drivers; Red Sox vs. Yankees; takeout vs. home-cooked; or “Gone With the Wind” vs. any other movie.
All of these issues are stunningly important, right up to the second where cataclysm falls and creates a nightmare scenario that so many fear.
That cataclysm is a complete loss of electricity and every mode of convenience and survival we take for granted.
The largest red flag on this issue in years just waved in South America. Last weekend, tens of millions of people in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay found themselves in a complete blackout. In one moment, they had electricity. The next moment, they had none, and they were catapulted back to the 1800s.
Only much worse.
People in the 1800s were not dependent upon electricity for their jobs, money, communication, Internet, transportation, education, security, medical services, prescriptions, water, and very lives.
The national power grid of the United States is truly a mess held together with, as the joke goes, by not much more than "baling wire and chewing gum."
The average age of large power transformers in the United States is 40 years. Seventy percent of all large power transformers are at least 25 years old. It's little wonder that, according to data from the Department of Energy, the United States suffers more blackouts than any other nation in the developed world.
The overall system is so weak, so taxed, and so vulnerable that in 2003, over 50 million people in the United States and Canada were hit with cascading blackouts simply because a tree branch fell on a power line in Ohio.
Because the infrastructure is so antiquated, weather triggers multiple blackouts per year in the U.S. Blackouts which collectively cost the nation upwards of $30 billion in spoiled inventory, lost wages, and repair of the grid.
Unfortunately, weather is becoming the least feared trigger of a blackout. In the age of terrorism and increasing cyber-threats, our power-grid getting taken down by a hack is no longer seen as a question of “If it will happen,” but rather, "When it will happen?"
The U.S. government is so rightfully fearful of this, that last November, it ordered DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to war-game a complete cyber take-down of the U.S. power grid.
An exercise they are now wisely running on a regular basis.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, just last year, hackers – strongly suspected to be Russian – gained access to a number of utility control rooms in the United States and got to the point where "they could have thrown switches."
The DHS report further stressed: "Russian government cyber actors targeted government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors."
Aside from the Russians, the Chinese, North Koreans, other terrorist states, and even cyber-extortionists, are targeting our power grid on a daily basis.
That clock is ticking.
Unfortunately, much like any large terrorist attack, when an extended regional or national blackout hits, you and your family will be on your own. No one is going to ride to the rescue.
How will you survive?
In the blink of an eye, you will lose access to money, food, gasoline, communication, medicine, medical attention, heat, air conditioning, and security.
Even though most don’t do it, residents of California and Florida are reminded every year to assemble their "two-week" survival kit. In California, it's because of earthquakes. In Florida, it's because of hurricanes.
Survival kits which include water, non-perishable food, medicine, first-aid kits, batteries, a radio, flashlights, candles, cash, a hand-crank charger, with smaller versions of all for your vehicle and office.
The federal and state governments should be issuing that same reminder to every citizen in the nation about the coming blackout. It truly is not a question of "if," but of "when."
A night on the town for a movie, dinner, a sporting event or a political debate is great fun until none of it matters and your survival is literally at stake.
Make a plan, because you will be on your own.
Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and author of "The Forty Days: A Vision of Christ's Lost Weeks."