On Tuesday (19APR22) morning, I was sitting in front of my computer reading the news and drinking a cup of coffee, when at 0811, power outages hit my area (a note on the time later).
The NOAA had us on a Winter Storm Warning, and we got about 6 inches of snow last night. The heavy wet kind. So, a power outage? Meh, no big deal. I can see a few downed trees out the window. Not uncommon for our area. I wrote an article about preparing for a power outage in the past detailing just how common these are where I live.
Then a thought crossed my mind that made me chuckle:
What if this was a cyber-attack on the grid?
West/US relations with Russia have not exactly been stellar of late. The Russian ambassador, in a recent interview with Politico, says he cannot get a meeting with the Biden admin, and there has been increasing rhetoric about possible cyber-attack on the US grid as of late. A few minutes later, the power came back on. After powering up my box, logging in, and starting to write about the snow, the power outage, and my cyber-attack thoughts, at 0829, the power went out again.
Now, I am just laughing.
I went downstairs to get some firewood for the woodstove. Even though I have a headlamp on, out of habit, I still flipped the switch for the basement lights. We have an electric wood splitter, so I looked around and found the backup: an ax. I split two logs into kindling – enough to keep the fire going for a bit. Of course, just as I get back upstairs, the power comes back on.
(If this hits your area, will you have enough food? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to what to eat when the power goes out.)
I got the fire going anyway.
I sat back down, took a sip of coffee and booted up my box – again. After logging in, starting to re-write my observations about the power outage the lights went out – again.
And at 0855 the power was out – again.
I did not know it at the time, but the power would be out for an hour and a half. In the meantime, I went to my hobby room to continue tweaking an air rifle of mine. But in the back of my head, I got to thinking about what if this was a cyber-attack on the grid? How would we know? The Internet is out. The radio is out. How would we find out?
I do have a small solar and hand-crank radio, but would radio stations even be up? During 9/11, I recall classic rock station DJs reporting the news as it came available, and that was vague. How long before even the government knew what was going on, let alone news outlets? And when would they start reporting on it? Would they even report on it?
The GridEx VI simulation
In a recent article, TOP pointed out that the North American Electric Reliability Corp (NERC) conducted a two-day simulation called GridEx VI, an attack on the electrical grid, telecommunications, and natural gas. During the simulation, the attacks would be conducted both in cyberspace and physical space.
Think about that for a moment: Without some kind of information source, at what point in time do I begin to really think this might be something more than a simple power outage? 24 hours? 48? 96? A week? How does that affect my decision-making process? Would it be too late to go into town to stock up for more groceries?
Would I find the local Wally-World ransacked and burned down? How would I know if it was safe?
There is a saying: We are nine meals away from chaos and anarchy.
Consider the Arab Spring. Recently Iraq, Peru, and Sri Lanka have already had civil unrest due to food inflation. Who says it cannot happen here?
Note, one of the conclusions the GridEx VI exercise comes to is it would be, “Two weeks and beyond: the western interconnection is restored, and customer load is eventually reconnected, but energy and capacity margins are tight for the foreseeable future.”
Having a friend down in town with radio comms between the two of us would be a good source of information. At the same time, I would not want them to put them in harm’s way for information.
The habit of turning on lights when there is no electricity made me consider how much we Americans take a stable electrical grid for granted. Heck, even my wife flipped the switch when she went into the bathroom.
The log splitter is a convenience. Having to use the ax to manually split wood is truly the “norm.” I did have my portable speaker hooked up to the charger, so it had a full charge to listen to music on my tablet, but my tablet was down to 41%. I have a small set of solar panels, but how much charge am I going to get on a day like today, snowing/raining/overcast?
My headlamp uses a rechargeable battery. It also takes AAA backups. Same with one of my flashlights. We do have a supply of batteries. How long would those last under more constant use in a grid down situation?
“Just run the generator.” For how long? At what point do I decide to limit running it or just powering essential devices?
Even something as simple as keeping time would disappear.
Something taught to us in the Marines was to note the time when something of significance occurred (obviously, return fire first or render first aid). I still do it to this day. I have a Casio Pro Trek watch. It has a solar-powered rechargeable battery.
Most people I know don’t wear a watch anymore (they use their phone), or the ones that do, it is some kind of smartwatch requiring USB charging. Now, we could go really old school and say, “Bob, I will meet up with you tomorrow, sometime in the morning.” How efficient is that? Even my Amish neighbors have simple pocket watches, which they consider very valuable. This is something to consider if the grid was down.
What do you think? If you had a power outage, what would you do?
Just assume it is weather-related? Or something more insidious? What things do you rely on that you would suddenly have to find an alternate for like an ax to split wood? How do you entertain yourself without YouTube?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.
He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.