I trust that you are doing well after the horrible August we had. In one month, we had two hurricanes wreak havoc through the Caribbean, Texas and Florida, forest fires ravaged the West and Canada, an 8.1 earthquake struck Mexico, the sun launched some of the largest solar flares towards us in years, and North Korea launched a missile over Japan in its most provocative action yet. Quite an eventful month!
But there is one event that happened in August that hardly got any attention, and it’s by far the most shocking, “Security firm Symantec is warning that a series of recent hacker attacks not only compromised energy companies in the US and Europe but also resulted in the intruders gaining hands-on access to power grid operations—enough control that they could have induced blackouts on American soil at will.”
I have talked many times about Ted Koppel’s book “Light’s Out” because it outlines the single largest vulnerability of the USA; our electric grid. Never before in history has a nation been so completely dependent upon electricity as we are. We live in a fantastic world of automation. Food and safe water are so plentiful that we never have to think about them. We are spoiled in so many ways, and we take it all for granted. But the truth is, without our electricity we are absolutely helpless. How many people could live through the winter without heat? How would we get food without our wonderful distribution system? How would people ensure their family is drinking safe drinking water if they couldn’t trust their tap water?
As a country, our electric grid is our single biggest strength, and our single biggest weakness.
We are vulnerable to a massive blackout that would cover a multi-State area and could last for months or even longer. This could happen to us in multiple ways; a cyber-attack, an EMP or a very large solar flare. All are very possible, but now the cyber-attack scenario is not a theory anymore. Symantec went on to report that they “found that the hackers obtained what they call operational access: control of the interfaces power company engineers use to send actual commands to equipment like circuit breakers, giving them the ability to stop the flow of electricity into US homes and businesses.”
“There’s a difference between being a step away from conducting sabotage and actually being in a position to conduct sabotage … being able to flip the switch on power generation,” says Eric Chien, a Symantec security analyst. “We’re now talking about on-the-ground technical evidence this could happen in the US, and there’s nothing left standing in the way except the motivation of some actor out in the world.”
While Hurricane Harvey and Irma were devastating to the regions that we’re hit, the devastating impact on these areas will be nothing compared to a massive, long-term blackout. The reason is simple; when a small localized event happens, such as a hurricane, the rest of the USA can mobilize to help the affected area. This is how our emergency response system is set up.
But if a very large area and millions of people are affected, it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible to respond effectively to the affected area.
In “Light’s Out”, Ted Koppel says, “There are emergency preparedness plans in place for earthquakes and hurricanes, heat waves and ice storms. There are plans for power outages of a few days affecting as many as several million people. But if a highly populated area was without electricity for a period of months or even weeks, there is no master plan for the civilian population.”
This is the real threat to our safety and our way of life, and politicians seem to be completely unaware of this threat. It’s up to you and I individually to be prepared for such an event. And we need to get the word out to as many people as possible about this.
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