Monday, October 3, 2016

Heard: "Lights Out" by Ted Koppel

Heard Lights Out by Ted Koppel, 2015, download.

Ted starts thinking about what would happen during a long term electrical outage covering a wide area. Ted is concerned about computer hackers that could damage, what he says is, a fragile set of 4,000 interlocking utility companies across the U.S. Storm damage from a hurricane can be fixed fairly quickly because utility companies and linemen from around the country can drive over and make repairs. But, what if the major equipment is damaged? What if a substation whose equipment weighs 4,000 pounds and requires a two year manufacturing process is destroyed? Large areas would be without power for months at a time.

Ted's prime example is the stuxnet virus used to destroy 1,000 or so centrifuges in Iran. Ted theorizes about what software and mechanical equipment can be destroyed by a foreign power hacking into the electrical grid. Cyber-security standards are lax and the many, many private companies have different standards, budgets, and technical experience with regards to computer security.

What's more, there are more pressing issues facing the industry. A hack job into the system is a "This may happen" situation compared to the pressing needs of paying salaries, replacing current equipment, etc.

Since it seems so highly possible that a foreign power could cause a power system outage Koppel goes into Apocalyptic Terror! mode. Can the federal government handle this disaster? There will be needs for food, clean water, sanitation, heat, A/C, commerce, traffic control, law enforcement, medical care and supplies, etc. Well... not really. FEMA is limited and each state takes care of most disasters anyway.

Ted goes on to talk about the Red Cross. The Red Cross has a spotty record and their planning is dependent upon Red Cross workers at the State and local level. No one has massive stockpiles of fuel, food and water available for the public. The only exception is the Mormons who run their own countrywide network of warehouses, trucks, and church stores.

If there are no emergency plans in place for a multi-state problem how do you handle evacuation? Where will people go and who will manage their shelter and food? Heck if Ted can find out.

1. This is a brief book and Koppel talked to a lot people from a lot of places. He did a thorough job of research and pressed people for answers.
2. People drive the process. One county can have a great person in charge and a clear plan and chain of command. A neighboring county can have a part-time fireman and half a case of bottled water.
3. Koppel spends a lot of time on food supplies. He is going on the assumption that supplies cannot come in and that a lack of refrigeration will cause more trouble. Plans to stockpile dehydrated and canned goods is limited by the cost and shelf life of those items.
4. The refugee crisis is just as great a problem. Don't forget Danziger Bridge during Hurricane Katrina.

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