In recent weeks U.S. Cyber Command began simulating disruptions to the U.S. power grid by foreign or domestic hackers. A coordinated attack on multiple power systems would paralyze the nation, cause markets to crash and put millions in mortal danger.
The probability of a cyber-attack on critical systems grows daily because the vulnerability of our various internet-connected power systems call out to those with cyber skills who hate the United States. Such attacks have already happened in Ukraine and Israel. Despite recent attention by Cyber Command and others we are almost criminally unprepared.
Even more troubling, there is a looming threat from our Sun to the vulnerable power generating and distribution grid that allows us a modern life. Normally, solar storms merely cause beautiful “Northern Lights.” But a “super-storm” would pierce Earth’s protective magnetosphere. The consequences would be nothing short of catastrophic.
The odds of a devastating solar super-storm by 2022 have now been estimated at a shocking 12 percent by scientists working alongside NASA and NOAA. That’s a frightening, too-high probability of a solar event that could send the United States back to a pre-industrial time in the blink of an eye.
NASA, NOAA and others woke up to a near nightmare in 2012 when a chain of powerful “coronal mass ejections” missed our planet by a few days in our orbit. We missed, by an astronomical whisker, a solar storm that had the potential to overwhelm and melt our electrical grid with highly charged electrical particles.
Experts have predicted that such an event would cause fatal damage to massive transformers and transmission lines that might take a decade to repair. In that time there would be, most significantly, few or no working water pumping plants. This fact, alone, would result in the death of millions of citizens. In fact, some experts have estimated that by the time electrical power was restored nationally as many as 80-90 percent of our population would perish.
No refrigeration, no lights, no fresh water or sewage treatment and a collapsed distribution system for foods and medicines are just part of the devastating picture. Police and firefighters (along with rest of us) would be without radio communications, telephones and internet or gasoline supplies. Good neighbors would do whatever they could to save themselves and their children from starvation and thirst. Bad people would pillage with little restraint.
In an instant, the United States could be hurled back to the 1800’s.
The federal government’s “Continuity of Government” system is an emergency program to save the lives of key government officials should a nuclear attack or other catastrophic event affect the United States. Shelters, food stocks, water supplies and medicines are pre-positioned to care for government officials and their families. Emergency transportation and protection protocols have already been developed.
No such plans have been made for the “governed” which begs the question—“who will government officials govern if 90 percent of the population perishes?”
We can “harden” the electrical grid against solar storms and electromagnetic attacks, install protective software and recovery systems and place technicians at major utilities and distribution stations for less money than two new Zumwalt class destroyers ($4 billion each). We can — and should — pre-position transformer parts in electromagnetic shielded shelters and pre-position food, water and medicines throughout the nation until we are fully protected.
“Government as usual” means that these common sense protections are not even being considered, much less already underway. It is a failure of both vision and government’s most basic responsibility to protect the citizenry.
That must change and it must change today…while there is still time.
Ken Hoagland is a long time grassroots advocate who is raising the alarm about this real world danger and creating citizen pressure on government to act in time at ArmorGrid.org.