Can you live without electricity?

A newly declassified report¬†from the National Research Council analyzes the vulnerabilities of America’s electric-power system. Douglas Birch of Foreign Policy

The formerly secret report to the Department of Homeland Security focuses more on the U.S. electric power system’s older technology and lack of spare capacity, saying the “physical capabilities of much of the transmission network have not kept pace with the increasing burden that is being placed on it.” As a result, it found, sophisticated physical assaults against key facilities could damage difficult-to-replace hardware and cause multiple cascading failures with catastrophic results.

Hurricane Sandy wasn’t a “sophisticated physical assault,” but it still did the job. The study was written in 2007 and classified by the Department of Homeland Security, but, in a new foreword, scientists say that its findings are still relevant:

We believe that we have a responsibility to make this report available to the public. Major cascading blackouts in the U.S. southwest in 2011, and in India in 2012, underscore the need for the measures discussed in this report. The nation’s power grid is in urgent need of expansion and upgrading. Incorporating the technologies discussed in the report can greatly reduce the grid’s vulnerability to cascading failures, whether initiated by terrorists, nature, or malfunctions.

A description from the report:

The electric power delivery system that carries electricity from large central generators to customers could be severely damaged by a small number of well-informed attackers. The system is inherently vulnerable because transmission lines may span hundreds of miles, and many key facilities are unguarded. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that the power grid, most of which was originally designed to meet the needs of individual vertically integrated utilities, is being used to move power between regions to support the needs of competitive markets for power generation. Primarily because of ambiguities introduced as a result of recent restricting the of the industry and cost pressures from consumers and regulators, investment to strengthen and upgrade the grid has lagged, with the result that many parts of the bulk high-voltage system are heavily stressed.

Electric systems are not designed to withstand or quickly recover from damage inflicted simultaneously on multiple components. Such an attack could be carried out by knowledgeable attackers with little risk of detection or interdiction. Further well-planned and coordinated attacks by terrorists could leave the electric power system in a large region of the country at least partially disabled for a very long time. Although there are many examples of terrorist and military attacks on power systems elsewhere in the world, at the time of this study international terrorists have shown limited interest in attacking the U.S. power grid. However, that should not be a basis for complacency. Because all parts of the economy, as well as human health and welfare, depend on electricity, the results could be devastating.

Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System focuses on measures that could make the power delivery system less vulnerable to attacks, restore power faster after an attack, and make critical services less vulnerable while the delivery of conventional electric power has been disrupted.

Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System

There are many other reports out there that are worth reading also:

Physical Vulnerability of Electric Systems to Natural Disasters and Sabotage

THE POWER GRID IS VULNERABLE. ( This report sites many other reports also. )

The National Strategy For The Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructures and Key Assets

A Vulnerability Assessment Methodology for Critical Infrastructure Facilities

National Infrastructure Protection Plan

Water Sector Interdependencies

Cyber security and Critical Infrastructure Protection

Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack

Cyber Attack Task Force

The Vulnerability of Nuclear Facilities to Cyber Attack

So in the end, the bottom line is that the vulnerabilities of America’s electric-power system come in many shapes and sizes and that it may not even take an “EMP” type event before we find ourselves without power for what could be very long and extended time frames.

Without power things fall apart fast. Without the hope of power being restored anytime soon, then things go from bad to worse.

Are you prepared if the lights go out and have no way of knowing when they will come back?

What if it is the hottest summer or the coldest winter, can you even deal with cooling or heating for your family?

These are just the tips of the iceberg when it comes to questions.

Maybe we all need to take some time to think about how and if we could deal with this type of situation.

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