What would we do without electricity? 

Commonly Called a Black Sky Event


By Sandy Estabrook


We are now as dependent on Electricity as the Oxygen we breathe. This was not the case of the not too distant past. What will we do without those volts, amps and watts when that day comes? And when it does, we will have three days before food spoils, medicine and water run out, batteries die, and effectively society will collapse.


First let's ask, how can we lose our electricity? On the grand scale, simply put, there are three ways this could happen with only two resultant outcomes.


First and the mildest 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 gets hacked. 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  the Iranian equipment in their nuclear research and facilitation projects. In this case is 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 hard hit. And its still probably out there of no consequence except for Siemens SCADA systems which 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.


When the electrical grid is attacked will we know who is the culprit. It doesn't have to be China or Russia but could probably be 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.  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 it will be a mad rush to 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, so for more info, and while the internet is up,  just google "electrical grid hacking". It's just a matter of time. Our electrical grid, as mentioned,  could be taken down by a subtle and devious hacker. We already know hackers have been snooping around our energy companies for weaknesses to exploit. The stories are many and frequent. 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. 

A recent story appeared in the Wall Street Journal that inspired this essay, says it this way;  


The threat to the U.S. electric grids is so serious that in 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 [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 Second and most serious cause of a Black Sky Event will cause what is estimated to take about 72 hours for complete social collapse. It can arrive one of two ways, one man made, one by nature which is inevitable.  


Simply put the events are called a coronal mass ejection (CME). A similar man made version called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) essentially a nuclear detonation high in our atmosphere designed to create such an event. This would no doubt include many terrifying effects including a blinding flash of light. Our entire continent could be effected with the crippling of circuits inside modern electronics on a massive scale. The power grid, phone and internet lines, and other infrastructure that uses metal may also be prone to the effects, which resemble those of a devastating geomagnetic storm produced by a CME. The only plus is we would have about a half a day to  prepare from when it is first detected before it arrives.


All transmission lines would essentially be overloaded and fry all transformers that bring our street level electricity.  And the more sensitive electronic micro circuits would, for the most part, be fried too. Only small equipment in a faraday cage might be saved.


It would be essentially a race against time to get the grid up and running to power communication systems, gas pumps, emergency equipment etc which could take minimally weeks inviting anarchy in city streets. If our power loss was due to a CME event, the same would apply . Every thing would come to a stop. Essentially we would be in the dark.


Ironically, a century ago this wouldn't have been a big deal. In fact it would have hardly been noticed. But subtilely mankind, especially western civilization, has become dependent on electricity as much as the oxygen we breathe. Think about that - being dependent on something that can be turned off by an enemy.


Regarding this CME, in case you are wondering;  Yes it has happened twice before. Luckily it was at the dawn of electricity in 1859.  At that time the only thing electric was the telegraph. Still the CME 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. 


So either way, Natures CME  or  Mans EMT the results are pretty much the same.


Life Without Electricity.


Remember with the latter events Everything would come to a stop. Most of our grid would be cooked as would be the wiring in anything above ground even battery powered devices.  Some underground wiring might be spared such as a subway train motor, water pumps and sump pump lift stations. But with out electricity, what's the difference. Humanity in the region is in full survival mode.


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


Early risers couldn't turn on the lights or check their clocks. Your iPhone is dead - nothing. You make your way to the bathroom take a shower by the moon light 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 as the stove. The natural gas is still working although you have to light it with a match - do I have one? The clock on the stove, 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 Unites 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. 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 under power,  anchor your craft if possible, under sail, return to port. If you are in a car or truck, head for closest civilization. This is the United States Coast Guard Montauk Point. - Out".  The message repeated.

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We will repeat: The next 72 hours are critical to your survival. 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.


As for what to do?


We now enter the area of the Prepper. A subject popular in early Obama administration. There was even a weekly TV show of the same name. There is a lot of material that can be googled (NOW) . Remember the internet will be gone.


It is not our intent to get into that subject except for mentioning a few fundamentals and that's assuming the event is caused by a hacking event.  Be sure to have a portable radio flashlight with plenty of batteries. A weeks's worth of canned food that need not be refrigerated and water too. If you can store a couple of 5 gallon containers of gas (only in a safe place) for your car.


If 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. We'll cover more in "When the electricity is turned off Part II".



This writers personal experience.


As you can see electricity is humanity's life blood. But without it you haven't thought the half of it. 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 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.


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 (before pollution controls). 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.


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.


Lastly 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.