Have you thought about

what you would do without electricity? 

Commonly Called a Black Sky Event

By Sandy Estabrook

Back in the day I remember seeing an episode of Star Trek where the evil doers held hostage an entire planet. They were dependent on them for the manufacture of Felicium  which offered temporary relief for their unknown addiction, thought as a plague, which was purposely inflicted by the villianous race generations ago. If only they knew, a week of rather uncomfortable withdraw symptoms would cure them of this dependency forever.

Imagine humanity now in the same situation, dependent on a product for which we had no need of only 150 years ago. Issac Newton, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln lived with out it.  Even Napoleon, Baron Lionel de Rothschild, Ben Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt lived without this life sustaining staple too. What was it? Electricity.

Today we are now as dependent on Electricity as the Oxygen we breathe. As you can see, this was not the case of the not too distant past. What will we do without those amps, volts and watts when that day comes? 

For any prolonged period, we will have three days before food spoils, medicine and water run out, batteries die, and society will effectively collapse.

How could we lose our electricity on a grand scale? Simply put, there are three ways this could happen with only two resultant outcomes - one really bad, one even worse. Two are man made, one by nature.

The first and seemingly easiest way of turning off our electricity would be Cyber Warfare. Specifically the disabling of our nations power grid.  Most of us have read about Cyber Warfare as the means by which a foe gains access to our most secret computing and data facilities, be they private, governmental or industrial. You may know it as hacking. We mostly hear of it when it is a major department store like Target and Macys or service industry giant such as JP Morgan Chase bank. Even tech giants like Yahoo, Amazon and eBay are not exempt. For the most part, aside from the stealing of information and secrets, their impact has been minimal - just costly and embarrassing. Physical harm has been negligible. 

One of the most clever offensive cyber hacks was the Stuxnet virus which was specifically designed for just one purpose - to impearl  specific Iranian equipment  used in their nuclear research and facilitation projects. In this case it spread peacefully through the internet until if sooner or later hit upon the equipment for which it was designed to disrupt and or destroy. The problem was other countries using the same devices were also hit. And its still probably out there of no consequence except for Siemens SCADA systems which by now have remedied the problem.

That is Cyber warfare. A hacker selecting a target, gathers or destroys info and often resells it. Equipment is sometimes destroyed too. Lastly a virus can be launched are random bringing down computers world wide when a set of circumstances are met. It can even be just for the fun of it.

If our electrical grid is attacked will we know who is the culprit? It doesn't have to be China or Russia but rather a rogue player in a country as small as Estonia or even from a basement in Brooklyn.  

If our power grid has been cascaded into shutdown by a hacking sometimes called a Black Sky Event, generating equipment need not be destroyed, although there could be local burnouts. There be no impact on battery powered devices and equipment until their charge is lost. Cellular would hold up for a little while. Cars and trucks would run. Refrigeration and gas station pumps - no.  And a biggie, municipal water pumps and sewer lift stations -no. (Local generator backup could extend the aforementioned.)  And lastly, most desired items have disappeared from store shelves for cash paying customers (no ATM's). Wind and solar generation would be useless except for private home installation.  

Needless to say there will be a mad rush to isolate the cause and get the power on before the situation becomes chaotic.

We already know hackers have been snooping around our energy companies for weaknesses to exploit. The stories are many and frequent, some of  significant detail. So for more info, and while the internet is up,  just google "electrical grid hacking". It's just a matter of time, before our electrical grid, could be taken down by a subtle and devious hacker. An article with significant detail appeared recently in the WSJ.  

Last September, news broke that hackers had laid siege to the U.S. power grid, probing deep into dozens of energy firms, looking for weaknesses to exploit. The Department of Homeland Security issued a threat warning about an ongoing stream of malware attacks that could one day lead to a Black Sky event, crippling cellphones, erasing bank accounts, devastating hospitals, and disrupting every sector of the economy. 

The threat to the U.S. electric grids is so serious that last June a group of presidential advisers said the country needs to prepare for a "catastrophic power outage" possibly caused by a cyberattack. The NIAC and chief executives of companies engaged in critical industries, said resources need to be stockpiled in community enclaves to prevent mass migrations of desperate people. "They've [the hackers] had access to the button, but they haven't pushed it," said Jonathan Homer, Homeland Security's chief of industrial control system analysis.

The WSJ, put it this way: America’s Electric Grid has a Vulnerable Back Door-and Russia walked right through it. Their reconstruction of the worst known hack into the nation’s power system reveals how this happened plus the attacks on hundreds of small contractors, not for their company information but rather the contractors they do business with.

One question looms. What happens if a Black Sky event takes place when a good percentage of our cars are electric? Obviously there will be no charging during the event. In fact, I’d almost expect electric transportation to be motivation enough for a hacker to do a little mischief. Better stick to a hybrid. (Incidentally, the electrical energy to keep auto and truck batteries charged means more power generation and a huge increase in the distribution infrastructure.)

The Second and most serious cause of a Black Sky Event will cause what is estimated to take about 72 hours before there is complete social collapse. It can arrive one of two ways, one man made, and one by nature which is inevitable. See above video.  

Our life giving neighbor, our sun occasionally hiccups in the form of coronal mass ejection (CME) which is a release of plasma and accompanying magnetic field. It happens regularly but fortunately not in our direction. Without going too scientific on you, just be aware if it is relatively strong and pointed towards us, most of our sensitive electronics would fry. We speak of the small electronic boards that run everything from out electric tooth brush to Cell phone to industrial controls. Cars would stop and tragically so would airplanes. Oh, and what about folks on dialysis or with pacemakers? With a CME  however, we’ll get about a about a half-a-day advance notice before arrival from its genesis, if it’s detected.

And in case you are wondering,  yes, it has happened twice before. Luckily it was at the dawn of electricity when the only thing electric was the telegraph. Still this first CME, called the Carrington Event, was strong enough that operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment - some bad enough to set fires. Northern lights were reported as far south as Cuba and Honolulu. As these events are pretty much on an eleven year cycle there have been others but fortunately focused away from earth.  You wouldn't want to be in the International Space Station, an airplane, fast moving car, subway or elevator.  

Again in 1989, ground currents from a less intense geomagnetic storm knocked out a high-voltage transformer at a hydroelectric power plant in Quebec, plunging the Canadian province into a prolonged 9-hour blackout on an icy winter night. 

Similarly there is a man made equivalent called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). It is essentially a nuclear detonation high in our atmosphere is designed to create a similar event with minimal destruction to physical property. This would no doubt include many terrifying effects including a blinding flash of light. A recent congressional study titled “Nuclear EMP Attack Scenarios and Combined-arms Cyber Warfare” suggest foreign governments are already undertaking research into such endeavors. 

Either way, CME or EMP our entire continent could be effected with the paralyzing of circuits inside modern electronics on a massive scale. The power grid, phone and internet lines, satellite uplinks and other infrastructure and equipment using electronic circuits would also be prone to the effects rendering them useless unless protected by a Faraday cage.

Imagine this situation: 

The weather is fair on a typical day. You are in suburbia.

Early risers cant turn on the lights or check their clocks. Your iPhone is dead - nothing. You make your way to the bathroom throw some water in your face and brush your teeth by the moon light coming through the bathroom window. The water is still warm and pressure is still there for the moment. 

You look out the window and see a glowing sunrise on the horizon. Funny, nothing is moving - no cars, no sounds except the birds. You cant turn on the TV to find out what's happening, still you decide to wake the family and you head to the kitchen. Oops, you cant even make your cherished cup of coffee with you Keruig. But you can boil some water at the stove, the natural gas is still working - the electric ignition is not. You have to light it with a match - do I have one? microwave and refrigerator - all dark. What the hell is happening.

You think, It must be a blackout like the one you read about when a little defective relay plunged the whole NE United States into darkness. But then the cars and radio worked and even my CB radio worked. Not his time. What to do?

You head outside and meet up with some neighbors and start discussing the situation. One asks with reply, “have you tried to start your car? - Dont bother. I tried to charge my iPhone in the car nothing happened. I even had to use the key to open the door, the remote wouldn't work, and of course I had to open the garage manually. Holy crap what the hell is happening”.

Just about then Joe ran up to join the conversation and put in his two cents. "You know, I once read about some kind of sun burst activity that could shoot high energy magnetism this way, or something like it. As per the article's suggestion, I put my boats walkie talkie in a metal tool box along with a portable radio and double 'A' batteries".  The boat's VHF radio was in his hand and working. We all listen anxiously to the static ridden transmission saying; "We have experienced a solar flare and all electronics and the regional electric grid was down. Communications are practically non existent. The extent was unknown. Stay indoors.  If you are on the water with power, or under sail, return to port. If not anchor your craft if possible. If you are on land, make your way to closest civilization. This is the United States Coast Guard Montauk Point. - Out".  The message repeated.

The next 72 hours are critical to your survival. Ironically, a century ago this wouldn't have been a big deal. In fact it would have hardly been noticed. But subtilely mankind has become dependent on electricity as much as the oxygen we breathe. Think about that, and think about everything we really depend on that is electric/electronic and what we’d do to counter its loss. Do you still have a wind up clock?

As for what to do?

In the first Scenario - loss by hacking - there would be minimal destruction to electronics. Just loss of power except battery power for a short period. The most serious effects will impact primarily the cities. Elevators, subways, being stuck in your 26th floor co-op. Your battery powered radio tells you to hang on, power will resume in 24 to 72 hours. Hopefully you have a weeks supply of canned foods and bottled water.

Beyond that we now enter the realm / domain of the Prepper - a trend that became popular during the Obama administration. There was even a weekly TV show of the same name. One very popular website is survivorlibrary.com and there is a lot of material that can be googled TODAY!. Remember the internet will be gone when you need it .

It is not our intent to get into the subject of prepping except for mentioning a few fundamentals. It never hurts under any circumstances to have a portable radio flashlight with plenty of batteries best kept in a metal tool box or equivalent.  A couple weeks's worth of canned food that need not be refrigerated. Plenty of water too. If you can, store a couple of 5 gallon containers of gas for your car (only in a safe place like a detached shed). 

In the case of the second Scenario - the event is caused by a CME  or  EMT, 

You'll have to resort to your primal instincts unless you have prepared and are at, or can get to, your safe location aka "Bug Out" home. Fundamentally,  get out of the city. Have a plan.

Often over looked is the fact that water and sewer will cease flowing except limitedly if you live in a country town with a gravity fed water tower and have a septic system.

As you can see electricity is humanity's life blood, especially if you are on dialysis or have a pace maker. If the power remains off past a week there will be anarchy. Survival will be humanities primary instinct. Teaming up with others can be useful. And of course so would firearms and knowledge of their use.

There is no time like the present to bone up on Prepping. Aside from the issue of loss of electricity and or electronics, what about political unrest. Out of the question?

In summary, this writer puts a Black Sky event happening in this order of possibility. 1) Hacking. I’d say before 2025. I’d like to think I’ll still be around so I’ll see for myself. 2) CME is the only one that is for sure but I’m guessing at not later than the end of the century. Maybe we’ll figure out a protection by then. Lastly at 3) an EMP. The only thing here to add, it doesn’t have to be Russia or China. 

What I would like to see is the myriad of snowflakes staring at their iPhones the moment this happens.

Do you have a box of these around? Can you start a fire with out them?

This writers limited personal experience.

Have you ever thought about what happens in a prolonged outage. Most of us have had experienced then for up to a day, maybe two. I for one experienced 8 1/2 day such an event during Hurricane Gloria. Fortunately I  had bought a 6KW Honda gas generator a year prior. It was in my garage and exhausted through the wall to the outside and ran relatively quiet. It was hooked to my refrigerator, a few lights, TV (before cable) for the news and the oil burner as it got pretty cold at night. Oh, I even ran an extension chord next door for my neighbors refrigerator and a couple lights and my son made me run an extension chord to his fish tank.

Here is a clue to what might happen today as was for us back then.  After two days my generator was out. and I couldn't find a gas station within 25 miles that had electricity to run their pumps. Fortunately my cars were fueled up, and eventually found a service station who had it's own generator.  

Having lived through the fuel crisis of the 70's, I promised myself one thing. I would always own a Diesel VW, the first being a Rabbit. I added an aftermarket extra 10 gallon tank in the trunk which would gravity feed into my regular tank. That totaled 20 gallons at 50 MPG - a thousand mile range! Till this day I still have an 15 year old VW Jetta Wagon with the old 1.9 litter engine. You may ask why. Well storing diesel is a lot saver than storing gas, and the diesel is the same No.2 oil as is home heating oil. I presume you can see where I'm coming from. Sadly as of 2019 there are no new Diesel cars of any kind being imported (2019) since VW rigged the MPG numbers. 

As for other prep, I have a metal tool box (a faraday cage) that I keep a CB Radio, VHF Marine Walkie Talkie, One of those emergency hand-crank-to-charge AM/FM radios with spot light, batteries and small geiger counter (from my prospecting days). Oh yes, a couple each; bicycles, fishing rods, rifles and hand guns too.

As for emergency food stuffs we always have a couple weeks supplies of canned chicken, tuna, chili corned beef hash etc and a box of  the Wise Company Dehydrated Foods", etc etc.

We have a basement, natural gas, a septic tank and our town has a water tower. Still in use (?) is our copper wire phone line. I’m tempted to buy a portable R/O filter for turning sea water (or any dirty water) into fresh H20. Lastly, we live very near a very large body of water with good fishing. The town is a small farming community with God fearing folks. It has a couple good bars which would act as it’s gathering point. The only negative it has lousy winters.