On Saturday, July 13, a large area of New York City plunged into a state of darkness. The blackout lasted for five hours and affected the west side of Manhattan. When 26 theaters were suddenly without power, social media channels were abuzz with videos of various Broadway productions continuing their shows on the street. Along with disrupted entertainment came problems with service on several subway lines, 911 calls for stuck elevators, and residents and tourists alike going without AC and light on a hot summer night in Manhattan.
At the time of writing this, the cause of the blackout is still to be determined. Con Edison, which operates the city’s power grid, attributes the blackout to “a significant electrical transmission disturbance.” (We know, what the heck does that mean??) According to the New York Times, Con Edison President Timothy Cawley said, although there were redundancies built into the power grid to prevent failures from spreading, “this event sort of got past that, and resulted in a large outage at the West Side station.”
As we have seen from other recent headlines, blackouts like these can strike anywhere, anytime. Back in March 2019 we covered the unprecedented countrywide blackout in Venezuela. Citizens were without electricity for a full week, though it lasted longer in other parts of the country. This resulted in widespread looting, Venezuelans being forced to drink water from the polluted city river in Caracas, and hospital patients dying without access to important electricity-based medical devices.
Then, in June, the neighboring countries of Argentina and Uruguay experienced their own power outage for a day, which knocked out electricity for 50 million in Argentina, Uruguay, and other parts of South America. As we can see, the threat of blackouts is widespread.
Our modern-day world is extremely dependent on the electrical grid: medical devices, communication systems, transport lines, and the basic ability to light our homes, offices, and more. Even though humans once functioned without electricity on a daily basis, the loss of such a resource today translates to societal disruption.
Should the US power grid or part of it get knocked out, we’re in for some tough days with our overdependence on electricity. That’s why there’s no better time than the present to revisit this topic, and learn how to prepare for this growing threat to our society and families.
Threats to Our US Power Grid
Currently, the US power grid is made up of two major (Eastern and Western) and three minor (Texas, Alaska, and Quebec) interconnections.
These interconnections, particularly the Eastern and Western, cover large stretches of territory. And unfortunately, because each system is made up of smaller interconnected pieces, small localized failures can result in disruptions to the larger grid. For example, in 2003, over 50 million people in the United States and Canada were hit with cascading blackouts after a tree branch fell on a power line in Ohio. The system is only as secure as its weakest point.
The threats to our grid can be categorized into three primary causes: infrastructure issues, weather, and terrorism.
Old Infrastructure: Our electrical grid isn’t exactly modern--it was created decades ago. According to Fox News, the average age of large power transformers in the United States is 40 years, and 70% of all large power transformers are at least 25 years old.
Like anything, with age comes inefficiency. As The Next Web puts it, “Power infrastructure across the US has been slowly degrading for decades, as aging equipment and networks struggle to keep up with the increasing demand for electricity.” Because of our antiquated systems, the US actually suffers more blackouts than any other nation in the developed world.
Officials in the energy sector are working to get our systems up to date, but progress has been slow. The recent blackout in New York is only one of many examples of inefficiencies in our existing systems.
Weather: Whether they be lightning strikes or larger hurricanes or snow storms, weather has been a consistent culprit behind blackouts each year. As Fox News shared, weather-related blackouts have “collectively cost the nation upwards of $30 billion in spoiled inventory, lost wages, and repair of the grid.”
As one example, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, Con Edison had invested a lot of money in the reliability of its system. However, it wasn’t enough--the city lost electricity for days after the storm hit.
Terrorism: Old infrastructure and weather are what have always posed a threat to our power grid. However, the mounting occurrence of terrorist activity has meant that we’ve had to prepare for an additional third cause of widespread blackouts.
In March 2018, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security revealed that Russian operatives had launched several attacks on some of our country’s most critical infrastructure, including the power grid. In response, last November the government ordered DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to simulate a complete cyber takedown of the US power grid. This war-game simulation allows our government to come up with a responsive strategy if the worst-case scenario were to occur.
The Russians aren’t the only ones to fear--evidence suggests that the Chinese, North Koreans, even cyber-extortionists are targeting our power grid every day. And in late June of this year, the US hit Iran with cyber attacks. Who’s to say they won’t strike back with a similar tactic?
With a wide range of potential threats to our electric grid, it’s easy to feel powerless. However, you do have the ability to prepare yourself and your loved ones for the worst-case scenarios of life without electricity.
How to Prepare
In the case of blackouts, you could lose access to money, food, gasoline, communication, medicine, medical attention, heat, air conditioning, and security in the blink of an eye.
If you haven’t already, take the time to assemble your survival kit...and do it now. Blackouts strike with little to no warning, and you won’t want to be caught off guard and forced to make a trip to the store filled with other panicked citizens.
Lighting: It may seem basic, but living without the ability to see at night can prove to not only be difficult, but also dangerous. Stock up on firewood, solar- or battery-powered flashlights, lanterns, and other alternative forms of light.
Communication: Without the ability to charge or power your devices, you won’t be able to rely on traditional forms of communication such as texting, calling, or emailing. Invest in a solar-powered charger, as well as a solar-powered radio to get local and national updates on the unfolding situation.
Money: Often when the power disappears, so does our ability to use credit or debit cards because there's no phone or internet line available. Also, ATMs won’t function without power. In case the power disrupts your ability to pull out cash, make a point to store a reserve of cash and other valuable items that can be used for barter at home.
Transportation: If you live in an urban area and have the physical ability, a bike is a worthwhile investment in case public transportation shuts down.
Food: Stock up on an emergency supply of nonperishable foods. Additionally, in the long term, it’s best to develop your own home garden to grow your own supply of fresh foods. You can pickle and can your fruits and vegetables to preserve them for longer.
Water: When the power goes, so does our supply of filtered and purified water. Food may be top of mind, but at the end of the day, humans can only survive for three days to one week without water. That’s why it’s critical to stockpile purified water at home. Other water purification solutions, such as germicidal tablets or the gravity-powered Alexapure Pro Water Filtration System, are sure to come in handy.
Take the necessary steps to stock up and prepare now. You never know when your local area, or the nation at large, could be plunged into darkness.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply