We live in a highly interconnected world, and things don’t always go the way we want them to. Today’s column therefore is about preparedness for extraordinary occurrences.
Consider these events:
• In May of this year, hackers disrupted fuel supplies for several weeks with the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. This had an enormous impact on anyone on the east coast who relied on a motor vehicle for transportation.
• During the pandemic, global supply chains were disturbed, resulting in shortages of some items. The turmoil for some products is expected to continue for another year or so.
• Last February, the Texas electrical grid shut down, affecting 5 million Americans for as long as 3 days.
• In 2003, the Northeast Blackout, while shorter, affected 45 million Americans and 10 million Canadians.
Is it conceivable that the electrical grid could go down over a wide region for multiple weeks? Yes it is. Disaster planners call this a “black sky” event, because when the power goes off the sky turns black over even the most populous city.
There are many scenarios in which this could happen – extreme weather events, hackers or other bad actors, even a solar storm, such as the Carrington Event in 1859, in which a solar flare dumped an enormous amount of energy into the earth’s atmosphere. That incident burned up much of the world’s telegraph system, which at that time was our only electrical infrastructure.
Where would we be without power? Realistically, we’d be in a tough spot.
• Municipal wells that depend on electrical water pumps would go dry.
• Credit card processing would stop, causing a massive disruption in our increasingly cash-less society.
• There would be panic buying in most retail establishments, especially gas stations and grocery stores.
• The Internet would go down, with cascading effects in every single area of our lives.
One response to this possibility is to adopt a survivalist lifestyle and attempt to live self-sufficiently off the grid.
For most of us that’s not a realistic option. But there are smaller steps that we can take to reduce the impact of a black sky event and give us a greater sense of security, so that we don’t have to get swept up in the panic.
1. Buy extra bottled water, one gallon per person per day for 14 days.
2. Stock up on non-perishable food, such as jarred and canned goods and shelf stable dry goods like pasta and rice.
3. Add a few space blankets to your kit. They are inexpensive, extremely compact, usually weighing no more than a few ounces, and 90% to 95% efficient for retaining body heat.
4. Think through how you will meet your treatment needs for ongoing medical conditions without power.
5. Lay in a supply of flashlights and batteries. Include some candles and matches in case the batteries go dead.
6. Have toilet paper and plastic garbage bags on hand. We all saw what happened to toilet paper supplies during the pandemic – they vanished. As for the garbage bags – well, the waste has got to go somewhere.
7. Have a reasonable amount of cash on hand. It may be the only way to pay for things if credit cards and ATMs don’t work.
8. And buy an emergency radio that does not depend on the Internet.
What is the likelihood you will need these items? Hopefully it’s not high, but no one can say for sure, so it is best to be prepared.
And one final preparation: Let your Congress-person know that you think they should consider pro-active measures that will reduce the risk of a black sky event.
Patrick J. Wood