18 July 2011

Are you ready for an indefinite power outage?

A month ago, I posted a fairly long article on the causes and possible duration for long-term power outages. In that post, I discussed a variety of events that could cause a lengthy outage. Two of the scariest events, however, are Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attacks or Coronal Mass Ejections (CME). I recently discovered a series of videos that discuss these two types of events and their likely aftermath.

The videos are of William R. Forstchen talking at the Sensible Mountain Preparedness Seminar, held in North Carolina about a month ago. Forstchen is the author of One Second After, which is the book I most credit for making self-reliance and preparedness a major focus in my life.

Forstchen's presentation include a lecture for the first half, followed by a question-and-answer session afterward. There are six videos, which you can access via the links I've presented below:

Basically, Forstchen's discusses how he first encountered the idea for the novel and describes how his research with a variety of professionals demonstrates the frightening reality of a the aftermath of an EMP attack. He also talks about CMEs and specifically mentions the Carrington event of 1859. Forstchen explains a bit about these disasters, but I'll digress for a moment to summarize them.

Both of these types of events would probably leave huge numbers of people without power for an unknown period of time. The true extent and duration of  our power loss would be dependent on the nature and magnitude of the event.

For instance, the altitude of the EMP detonation determines how widespread the damage is. As you can see in the image to the right, the higher the altitude, the greater the area that is impacted.

If that's not bad enough, a CME incident could be even worse, according to Forstchen. He mentions that a severe solar event could impact the Earth over an extended period of time, resulting in power outages and technology disruptions around the entire globe.

The aftermath of either type of event is chilling, since they both have the ability to destroy electronic circuitry that isn't protected (referred to as "hardened") against such destructive electromagnetic forces. The military hardens some of its facilities and hardware, as do some businesses. Nevertheless, the majority of computer-controlled equipment in the world is not protected. This is especially for the things the average person uses (like phones, computers, cars, etc.), but it is also true for our national electrical grid. (As Forstchen mentions, you can watch a video of how an EMP affects a "Ford Taurus".)

Think about it. In a moment, all of your electrical devices stop working. No computer, or phone, or car, or radio. That's just for starters. You'd soon realize that your limited to what you have on-hand already to eat and drink... and the clock's ticking on how long the food in your refrigerator and freezer will last. Water could also be a problem, if electrical pumps are required to deliver the water. Since you car's probably not working, you might be able to walk to the store, but then what? If they're even open, it's likely that only cash is being accepted, since all electronic banking systems are down.

And that's just the beginning. Aside from major issues like food and water supply, the extended power failure will cause problems for your shelter (e.g., no heat in the winter), medical needs (little or no medicine available), communication (no phones or radios), and employment (if you can get to work, will it even be open). Worse yet is the possibility that services may take years to restore. Of course, the wider the area impacted, the longer it will take to get everything back to some semblance of normality.

It's no wonder that these events are considered to be a “Continental Time Machine” — they could essentially put us back to a 19th-century lifestyle. Such a radical shift is what lead a government commission to estimate that some 90 percent of Americans could die in the years after an EMP. Even if these experts were off by half, that's still 45 percent — perhaps 140 million people — that could die.

Now, back to the videos. As you can see from the above, this is difficult stuff. Thankfully, Forstchen's somber discussion of the topics is punctuated with humor in a few places, so it's not a total downer. Nevertheless, he takes it seriously, and urges people to contact Congress to demand action to harden our infrastructure. (Of course, I suspect that the government spending that would be required is now more difficult than ever to secure, given our current political climate.)

Regardless of such activism, Forstchen realizes that it's the average American who needs to do something in their life — to become self-reliant and prepare as much as possible. He urges people to be prepared, and work locally on preparedness. Discuss it with your family, neighbors, and others in your community.

How have you prepared for life without electricity? What are your biggest hurdles for such a lifestyle?

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