Friday, December 9, 2011

"96 Hours to the Stoneage"

This is an important article discussing what will happen to our telecommunication systems in a grid-down situation.
Consider this. On Thursday, September 8, 2011, an equipment failure in Arizona caused an electric utility cascade failure, leaving millions of people from the San Diego area in the dark. One moment, power was on for a several thousand square mile area. The next moment it was gone.

In August, Hurricane Irene temporarily took out 6,500 cell phone sites on the east coast. At the end of October, a freak snowstorm left millions without power in parts of the Eastern Seaboard. Although weather problems are challenging, at least there’s usually some prior notice so utilities and cell operators can prepare. And there are often pockets where power is still available. When power goes down everywhere simultaneously, instantaneously, like it did in San Diego, it makes you think.

By 96 hours after the power shuts down, power better be turned on again, our connectivity restored, or we’ll be in the Stone Age.

That worries me.
 He continues:
So imagine power goes down one morning. No notice, it is just out. For the first few hours, we bitch that our wireless Internet connection is slow, or that we get network busy tones for some of the calls we want to make. Through our phones, tablets and other connected devices, we get news and updates from our local municipality along the lines of: “hang in there, we are sorting it out.” If we are not stuck at work or in a traffic jam, we make our way home to our dark houses.

24-48 hours: Enter the information abyss. The next morning, many of us will not have cell service. Operators will get portable generators to key sites — but not all sites. After 48 hours, more of us are disconnected.

So how do we find out what’s happening? Our TVs and cable modems don’t work — no power! Battery-powered radio? If you are one of the rare people who owns one, you’ll still have a problem. Radio stations are increasingly high tech, and guess what, most stations were off the air during the September San Diego blackout.

48-72 hours: Your wallet is empty and so is your fridge. How will you handle even simple purchases without power, communications or cash? As we increasingly transact via credit cards, online and even cell phones, cash has become much less prevalent. If the ATMs are down, and you don’t have enough emergency cash on hand, what do you do?

Already, it seems that for a broad range of demographics, especially those under 25, cash is already dead. Or, if there are emergency radio broadcasts and the broadcasts says that emergency help is located at a certain park in a certain city, what good is that information to a GPS reliant person who never learned to read a map and doesn’t own any maps?

72-96 hours: No gas, no water. Now what? Cars have run out of gas. The roads are so clogged, they’re non-functional. Public safety will be dealing with all of these issues — with a degraded communications infrastructure. And are the pumps from your local water facility still running? Remember, all of the sewage and water plants are increasingly automated. I don’t know about you, but I will be cranky by that point.

Acts of humans will be worse than the proverbial “acts of God.” But wait. We’ve been discussing natural disasters and equipment failures. In another scenario, what if some bad guys launched a cyber attack on the utility grids? Kind of like what “may” have happened in Brazil in 2005 and 2007 (though the government attributed it to “soot on wires”). I’m not a data security guy, but in looking up articles on utility vulnerability, I stumbled upon the Grey Goose Report, which is scarier than anything I’ve written.
 (H/t Instapundit, which has some ideas and further links on power during a grid-down situation).

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