24 March 2010

When the Power Goes, it Takes Civilisation With It

What happens when North America gets hit by either a nuclear EMP or a 110 year cycle solar flare? It would be the mother of all power surges, and everything would seem to go out at once. Power, water, refrigeration, gasoline pumps, food deliveries to supermarkets, virtually all communications and electronic entertainment, etc etc.
What could happen: Everything that would happen in the previous four scenarios, and then some. Forget clean water. Forget health care. Wipe out the last 20 years of recorded history, because most of it was stored digitally...

..."We'd feel it first in the economy and our financial institutions, where everything is digital. Markets will collapse," says Siciliano. "Where's everything backed up -- in a filing cabinet? The economy would collapse, the banks would lock their doors and keep whatever money they had in the vault, because the rest has evaporated into thin air. Once the money's gone, we're resetting the clock."

How long to recover: Unknown. According to a January 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences, the effects of a severe geomagnetic storm would be felt for years, most acutely in societies that are the most dependent on technology. The U.S. could take from four to 10 years to bounce back, according to the NAS -- if it bounces back at all.

"It will take a tremendous amount of manpower to clean up the mess," adds Siciliano. "Something that catastrophic, the gas pumps won't be operating, so a guy who's supposed to take a part to repair a facility can't get there because he has no gas. It could literally throw us back to 1840. Suddenly we're a third-world country again." _Infoworld
It would take years for a full recovery, perhaps decades. Since the big power transformers are no longer made in the US, and require up to a year from order date to be delivered, it all depends upon the extent of the damage worldwide. It is likely that wars would spring up in the middle of the tumult, drawing away the only US force competent and capable enough to re-boot US society -- the US military. Up to 90% of the US population could be dead within 1 year of such a devastating power failure, according to some estimates.

It is also possible for computer hackers to bring down large sections of the North American power grid, but recovery from such an attack would probably take no longer than a few weeks. Of course, a large scale power outage of a week up to a few weeks could have fatal repercussions.
Like the grid itself, other failures tend to cascade when the lights go out. In 2003, landline and cellular phone systems still worked but were so overloaded with calls that they effectively shut down. Electric railways stopped in their tracks, flights were canceled, and gas pumps would no longer pump. Water supplies that relied on electric filtering systems got contaminated. Food and medicine got spoiled; looting occurred; people died. _Infoworld

If you do not have a backup power generator for your home, and several weeks worth of food and clean water, get to work. If you have an insulin requiring diabetic in your household, stock a few months worth of extra insulin, and rotate your stock to keep it fresh. And so on.

It's easy to assume that you can continue to go on depending upon large institutions for your power, fuel, food, medicines, and civil order in your neighborhood. But under the current US government, such assumptions are foolish. Start taking responsibility.
First published at abu al-fin

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