Surviving a Long-term Electric Power Blackout

by Ken Chrosniak

Bottom line up front:  There exists a clear and present danger to America: the loss of sustained electric power.  This was confirmed and announced by past Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and is well known within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Currently, there is absolutely no government entity that has initiated any substantive plan to prevent or recover from a catastrophic breakdown of our electric grid occurring over multiple regions of America simultaneously.

First Responders are, of necessity, inherently proactive and action-oriented, which is the impetus for this discussion.  Every First Responder whether firefighter, police, or EMS, knows that you have to engage (attack) and deal up close and personal with the source of the problem-set as quickly as possible.  Gaining spot on situational awareness as to the source location of the fire, making instantaneous law enforcement decisions, or performing triage at a vehicle accident all involve the best assessment at that time. In the case of a nationwide loss of the electric grid due to already well known threat factors, these valid assessments of severe and existing vulnerabilities have already been completed by competent sources.  Now the time for analysis and talk is over.  Action is in order, immediately.

Think about this, all of us (yes, especially the military) are totally dependent on electric power, which is the most preeminent segment of Critical Infrastructure/Key Resources (CI/KR). We, as a nation, literally cannot survive without it.  The degradation or loss of electricity will eventually cause cascading failure to other CI/KR segments such as telecommunications, natural gas and oil, banking and finance, transportation, water supply systems, government services, and essential emergency services (See Figure 1below).

Our extremely tenuous and fragile electric grid, with its hundreds of vulnerable extra high voltage (EHV) transformers, thousands of other power level transformers, and over 200,000 miles of aged transmission lines, is in essence the ‘nervous system’ that runs our country. This design and function of this complex grid touches, indeed even manages, critical aspects of everyday life, without most of you possessing even a passing thought to any of it.  You turn the light switch on in the bathroom and it gives you light, and you unknowingly expect it to.  We have become dependent upon our cell phones and tablet computers, and the internet which allows connection to the world and numerous services.  Consider what we take for granted: water pressure for daily use in sanitation and fighting fires, your cell phone, the ubiquitous internet (that makes it possible for the doctor to order Insulin for your child), the supply chain to enable production of that Insulin, food industry, ambulances, hospitals, all forms of transportation, oil and natural gas refinery refineries and delivery, refrigeration, and essential military installations and their supportive defense industrial base operations

Our financial matters have also become increasingly, if not totally, dependent upon that all-mighty internet, delivering your pay, bill-paying, investments, and even welfare, food stamps, pension,  and social security check deposits. Wall Street could not function without the connections the internet “grid” provides, all of which are so completely dependent on it. Consider also what we thoughtlessly rely on, our nuclear power system, with its pumping systems designed to cool the power plant core and also the old rods in the spent fuel pool. The same is true for oil and natural gas refineries, and production facilities, and the transport, both land and rail to bring it to market.  Out of sight, yet vigilant above us as they assist America’s needs are numerous and critical commercial and military satellite systems. These have become essential to our life-sustaining communications network as well as to commerce, transportation, and the functioning of the defense of the homeland.  These satellites are extremely vulnerable, and may fail under conditions of nuclear or natural electromagnetic pulse events.

Mr. Joseph McClelland, the first Director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Infrastructure Security, stated that private power utilities are not prepared to handle a catastrophic loss of power in that the effects would be profound on the entire national grid system.  He stated that most crucial are the 350 plus large EHV step-up and step-down transformers which are extremely vulnerable to threats, with little to no replacements on-hand; and (worst of all), most are not made in the Homeland.  Each requires specific design configuration, which can take up to two years to produce, each needing significant transportation support for shipment and placement at its final destination. Worst case, (remember to always plan for worst case), we will not be able to order nor have the capability to deliver or emplace most EHVs for multiple years due to doubtful replacement availability (other nations will need them also), transportation, or trained engineers for emplacement (among other concerns).  I will add more to these thoughts later in this discussion.

Existing manmade and natural threats.

Earth often naturally experiences differing levels of geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) from solar flares (coronal mass ejections).  While many do minor harm (mostly to GPS and communications), large scale “direct hits” could have, and have historically had devastating impact on our Earth and its life.  If a massive geomagnetic storm were to occur now, it could totally destroy modern electronics, leaving us “in the dark” for weeks, months or possibly years. Not preparing for a catastrophic solar event is similar to playing Russian roulette, as it’s not “if”, but ‘when” the event will occur.

Have you been informed by DHS that there are also viable manmade threats to the electric power grid in addition to solar flares and devastating Katrina and Sandy-scale storms?  No, probably not.  An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated from a high-altitude nuclear burst (HEMP) will destroy outdated and vulnerable EHV transformers (of which power utilities have critically low spares) and the fragile transmission system.  An EMP is created by detonating a nuclear warhead between 50 and 500 kilometers above the earth’s surface creating a pulse which can disrupt and disable electronic computers, electric power generation and distribution, and telephone and information systems over a substantial geographic area.

Furthermore, a space-based nuclear blast will, overtime, degrade or disable satellites, severely impacting communications for civilian operations and military command and control of Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) operations.  Iran will soon have the capability to strike Israel and America with nuclear weapons, as will North Korea.  Russia has been, and always will be, a continuing nuclear threat.  Considering the fact that a satellite can act as a delivery system just as effectively as a missile, it is interesting to note that both Iran and North Korea have launched satellites with questionable functionality (North Korea has launched a weather satellite that traverses over our Homeland).  Recently a cyber-savvy General officer told me that his/her (sorry, can’t give the name) greatest fear, and one that keeps him/her ‘awake at night’, is a HEMP attack over central Kansas that will take out our nations’ electric grid for a very long time.  This could easily be accomplished with an orbiting satellite, whether considered “operational” or a “failure.”

Another significant threat to your survival and the Homeland is the insidious nature of a coordinated cyber and physical attack on our power generation plants, transformers and CI/KR.  An example of the effect of a cyber attack on electric power distribution was confirmed during a controlled “Aurora” test at the Idaho National Laboratory, in which controllers “hacked” into a large circuit breaker and synchronizing relay to a generator by repeated opening and closing, which resulted in power becoming “out-of-phase, resulted in ‘cascading’ damage to alternating current (AC) equipment in the system.   Such a cyber attack will cause a loss of load, and will result in cascading effects and probable collapse of the grid.

While the Aurora test proved conclusively that control systems can be hacked into easily, they can also be damaged via kinetic (physical) means.  On 16 April 2013, there was a complex physical terrorist attack on the Metcalf transformer substation near San Jose, California, resulting in damage to multiple transformers from small arms fire (SAF).  Many transformers were damaged due to small arms fire (SAF), but technicians made heroic efforts to maintain power to Silicon Valley.  This was not a bunch of “Bubbas” out on a shooting spree, or workplace violence.  It was a tactical-level terrorist attack with the goal of performing reconnaissance and surveillance of response actions.  Recently the media noted that a coordinated terrorist operation against nine key substations could cause a grid collapse across the entire country.  U.S. Senators expressed ‘shock’ and outrage that such information was leaked, but believe me, this is old news to our enemies as they most assuredly have ‘surveilled’ these sites already and are well-aware of our most vulnerable transmission nodes within our massive grid.

To add to what you may term “my paranoia”, near the same timeframe a leading General officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps announced that they have already targeted many critical infrastructure sites in America.  Oddly enough, on the very same day the terrorist attack in San Jose occurred, a North Korean KSM-3 satellite was orbiting over New York City and Washington, D.C. from a southern trajectory (by the way, we have no southern oriented ballistic missile defense system in place), and at an ideal altitude for and EMP attack. At a later date a North Korean freighter, transiting the Panama Canal, was discovered to have two nuclear capable SA-2 missiles (but no warhead) hidden under their sugar cargo.  Headed most likely for Cuba or Venezuela?

Nearly every day you hear about increased government, commercial and private cyber hacking.  Nuclear power plants, banking systems, power generating plants, dams, chemical storage sites, the White House, FBI, the Pentagon and many critical infrastructures are vulnerable.  Some of you may have had a shocking hit through the portals of Target chain stores credit cards; coincidentally well-named.  Past Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano have warned of an impending Cyber Pearl Harbor attack that could result in an electric breakdown due to cascading failure of critical infrastructures (power generating plants) across the nation.  As of now there is no effective defense, other than constant ‘patching’, or a total disconnect from the internet.

A recently declassified 2007 National Research Council report, sponsored by DHS, stated “The U.S. electric power delivery system is vulnerable to terrorist attacks that could cause much more damage to the system than natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, blacking out large regions of the country for weeks or months and costing many billions of dollars.” And, that “the security of the U.S. electric power system is in urgent need of attention.”  So, one can deduce that the DHS is fully aware that a cyber attack on the power system could affect large regions of the country for weeks, months or even years, and has acknowledged so before the U.S. Senate as recently as May 2013. The result would be significant societal unrest (you can use your imagination here) and helplessness, and complete and total vulnerability.  Has DHS alerted you to be aware and prepare for that fact?  No.

Tragically, your First Responder community is not aware of this either, and their help will not be guaranteed (or will be severely compromised). Your National Fire Service and fire academies are not informed of this challenge either, nor how to plan for a response in that the DHS has not provided guidance to firefighters and police, and has not developed exercise scenarios to protect you regarding any long-term power outage strategy for emergency services.  Nor have they done so for your police. For you First Responders reading this, now is a good time to imagine your duties at the firehouse without water pressure, no 911 comms (or a severely degraded network), limited refueling (if your equipment is functional to begin with), no fuel for your generator (if you have one to begin with), and no regional assistance/mutual aid!  I’m sure you can think of others.

Taken individually any of these threats could result in long-term failure of the electric grid. To give you some perspective, a congressionally chartered EMP commission of eminent scientists (after an eight year study) concluded in 2008 that over 60% of our population would perish within one year of a multi-regional “grid-down” event.  What is unforgivable is that while these threats may be unknown to you, your local, state and federal leaders have not been informed to plan and prepare for these catastrophic high-impact/low-frequency events.   I encourage you to read the report by simply searching “2008 EMP Commission Report” on the internet.  Even though encouraged by the EMP Commission, as of this time your DHS leadership has yet to incorporate EMP as an additional National Planning Scenario (NPS)!   If they did so, adequate planning and actionable scenarios for your survival could be initiated.   

Mitigation Efforts.   

It’s certainly well-known that DHS, FEMA, the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), National Guard Bureau and state emergency management offices have excellent “All Hazard” (so called) plans ‘on the shelf’, and conduct superb training and exercises for local and regional disasters.  All performed well during hurricanes KATRINA and SANDY.  However, as of now there are no plans or exercises regarding a prolonged blackout lasting months or years involving multiple FEMA regions in the Homeland.  DHS must immediately develop plans to assure command and control, situational awareness, and encourage localized resilience and empowerment.  DHS must immediately develop and implement a comprehensive and coherent suite of communications strategies in support of a national campaign (think Civil Defense from the old days) to foster public awareness and motivate individual citizens and communities to be self-sufficient and resilient.  Do not think in the mistaken terms of the 72 hour mantra as DHS presently states!

First Responders think realistically, not in terms of maybes. So, right up front to my brother and sister First Responders out there: how much of a surge capability do you have in your firehouse, police or EMS station?  Will you continue to report for duty while your family’s survival concerns are heightened?  As a volunteer Firefighter, I will ensure my family is secure first and foremost. Then, if possible, I’ll go to the fire station and find out if the 911 comms work, if there is hydrant water pressure, and see if the ladder truck operates (which in some cases it won’t).  But then again, who knows?  No scenarios have been developed, tested, exercised, or planned for by DHS or the National Fire Service.  For fire protection alone, agencies of the DHS should ensure that fire apparatus manufacturers produce ‘hardened’ microprocessors in fire engines, ladder trucks, heavy rescue vehicles, ambulances and emergency 911 centers designed to survive an EMP.  Generators are critical for allfire stations, with an absolute minimum of 30 days fuel supply on hand, and essential repair parts.

DHS and FEMA are accountable to you to initiate and exercise these “true All Hazard” plans regularly at the regional, state, local, and tribal level to assist in your recovery efforts.  For a start, DHS/FEMA should ensure development of training course material for First Responders on operational procedures after loss of power, develop an EMP attack consequence assessment tool to perform planning analysis and training, and set aside and protect hard to replace critical equipment and microprocessor components.  In addition we must ensure that essential 911 communications are hardened and redundant, and enhance mutual aid supportive relationships.  Note: the 911 system was severely compromised during the recent Derecho event on the east coast, and hurricane SANDY.

None of the above is being accomplished right now as fire, police and ambulance company chiefs have no idea what to do with the catastrophic, if not tragic, effects of having little to no electricity for very prolonged periods of time, over multiple regions of the country simultaneously, in a likely contaminated radiological environment.  Just for fun, go and ask your local fire chief to explain the effects of an electromagnetic pulse on his/her department, and the effects of no electricity (e.g., no water pressure) for a prolonged timeframe, and see what she or he has to say. You can then waste more time by asking your police chief the same question.

The Department of Energy (DOE), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), NORTHCOM and Private Utility Companies (PUC) don’t get a free pass.  All are complicit in not developing the vision, planning, training, exercising, and means to inform the American people of the threat to their survival. The NERC and PUCs state that the cost of preparation and hardening elements of the electric grid would be cost prohibitive.  That is ludicrous, as it would cost on average about $2.00 per year (that’s a few cigarettes or half a pint of beer) to the average consumer bill to very basically ensure hardening of at least the most crucial 350 EHV transformers that are “key” to power restoration, and nearly impossible to replace after an event.  Yes, the overall cost would possibly amount to two billion dollars, but this would be pale in comparison to the tremendous cost (in trillions of dollars) by doing nothing.   Just read some of the dire research from Lloyds of London, a major insurance entity.  You may not know this, but we send at least $2 Billion dollars to Pakistan each year in foreign aid.  The main issue here is that while it’s clear that it is nearly impossible to truly secure the entire electric grid from all hazards, it is feasible to secure the most essential yet nearly impossible to replace or repair transformers and control systems.  NERC speaks for industry, not for the Homeland, and consistently submits flawed and rosy-outcome self-assessment reports which are rarely, if ever, validated.

Defense Support to Civil Authorities and FEMA.

The situation in the military is unpromising.  In July 1012, Dr. Paul Stockton (former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense) addressed the U.S. Army War College’s Distance Education class of 2012, where he noted the potential of cascading and escalating failure of the electric grid on the Homeland and especially the military response following an earthquake around the New Madrid fault.  He emphatically reiterated the dire warnings of the 2008 Congressional EMP Commission report that a high-altitude nuclear burst (HEMP), a geomagnetic disturbances (GMD), coordinated physical and cyber attacks, or a New Madrid type earthquake (or other natural disasters) could take down our fragile and unprotected grid.  To get the ‘big picture’ of the presentation, please see Dr. Stockton’s speech at sure to advance the video to the 10:05 minute mark for his introduction and presentation.

Thinking of the military “cavalry coming over the hill” after a prolonged blackout event?  Don’t.  Again, plan for the worst case!  While some DSCA forces may assist you initially, the operative word here is prolonged.  You cannot be assured that the military will be there to help because, just as you, they are also heavily dependent for power from their surrounding community electric grid which supports all military installations, including the crucial defense industrial base and their supply chain providers.   Nor do they train or conduct exercises to operate within a degraded environment due to the loss of electric power over prolonged periods of time in vast areas of the Homeland.  A 2008 the Defense Science Board report stated that “critical national security and homeland defense missions are at an unacceptably high risk of extended outage from failure of the commercial electrical power grid.”

How can DSCA forces, emergency managers and responders at all levels of government and in the private sector, maintain critical communications during and after an extreme space weather event or HEMP?  FEMA knows the dire picture of this problem-set (as shown in Figure 2 below) which depicts the result of satellite communications (SATCOM) failure in low, mid and geosynchronous orbit after 30 days.  The “POTS” line on the chart is the Plain Old Telephone System.  After this timeframe First Responders, FEMA, and any responding DSCA military assistance will be left to operate with severely degraded, denied or destroyed communications, and forced to use HF radio “line-of-sight” capability (as long as the fuel for generators holds out) because, like FEMA, the military relies on robust commercial and military SATCOM communication systems for ongoing rescue and recovery DSCA operations.  FEMA states that “line-of-sight public safety and commercial radio (HF, VHF, UHF, and microwave) will work if power (fuel for their generators) can be supplied to systems and receivers.” Do they train for this eventuality?  No.  However, spokesman David Trachtenberg of the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS), states that his organization conducts training with the Army and Air Force to enable some level of communication capability.  It’s certain that operators will be worth their weight in gold after the loss of satellite ‘beyond line-of-sight’ communications.

There is some good news to report: the Army is preparing tactics, techniques, and procedures to continue communications and situational awareness in less than optimal conditions involving mission command and DSCA in such a situation. (Think a resurgence of paper maps, grease pencils, acetate, messengers, and the simple compass).

Think about one more negative: what will be on the mind of military personnel that initially do report or remain on duty during and after a catastrophic event, no matter if they’re Active Duty, Reserve or National Guard (either in the Homeland or overseas) after a prolonged period of time?  With no contact from their families what will be ‘heavy’ on their minds?  What will be their ‘readiness level’ with that undeniable and mind-numbing uncertainty that is apparent with thoughts and concerns of their loved ones?  Will they be truly thinking of you first?  Many emergency response leaders will assume that personnel will remain on duty for the long haul.  Wrong.

I won’t take time here to discuss the societal problem areas associated with a prolonged loss of power.  You can watch news footage of any natural disaster that occurred in the U.S. and you’ll see looting and rampage at differing levels before, during and after.  Let your imagination run with a scenario of your own choosing, and you’ll be able to write your own survival TV series like Revolution or The Dome.  These thoughts will be foremost in the minds of most sensible military personnel.  So, at what point will they continue to man our military installations and support DSCA?  The same goes for Defense Industrial Base (DIB) personnel (manned mainly by civilian workers).  Will critical DIB functions continue without a sufficient amount of works, or the supporting supply chain providers?  No, probably not.

Any responding rescue and recovery forces will be called upon to aid in an environment that will involve no accessible fuel, severely degraded/denied communications, severe societal unrest, possibly maneuvering in a likely radiological and/or chemical HAZMAT environment, and encountering overwhelming medical needs with a broken medical system, in vast urban and suburban areas – all at the same time, and over a very prolonged period of time.

Our country possesses no plans, scenarios or exercises from DHS, FEMA, DoD, DOE or anyone for such a complex and truly catastrophic level of intensity.  Remember, always plan for the worst case.  

Nuclear Environment.

Another critical area devoid of any substantive planning in a grid down event is the effect of a grid down environment on the 104 nuclear power plants in the Homeland.  There will be power, but not for long.  Initially during a grid blackout, back-up power from in place batteries and/or generators should start immediately to maintain essential coolant controls. These are necessary to keep both core and spent fuel pools (spent fuel pools store numerous discarded rods from the core) cool and safe. These batteries may last about 12-48 hours at best.  After they stop, operating diesel generators should “kick-in” (but remember Fukushima?) but will eventually run out of fuel. Reserve fuel lasts about 7 days, maybe more, but with fuel resupply highly questionable. Petroleum refineries and the rail and road fuel transportation system will be negatively affected also.  Once generators run out of fuel, an intense exothermic Zirconium fire will first occur in the cladding surrounding the spent fuel rods in the pool, soon followed by venting of Cesium-134.  The core will become compromised some time later if a ‘blackstart’ cannot be accomplished in a timely manner to ensure proper cooling.

Here’s an example to illustrate the extreme vulnerability of our electric grid.  On 14 August 2003, four sagging high voltage power lines near Dayton, Ohio, brushed onto untrimmed tree branches. This event, compounded by an energy company computer system error (embedded malware), caused a cascade of failures that eventually left 50 million people without power for two days. This event resulted in the largest blackout in North American history affecting the entire northeastern U.S. and Ontario, Canada, costing an estimated $6 billion.  It contributed to 11 deaths, and shut down over 500 power generating facilities; 22 of them were nuclear power plantsLet this fact sink in: a nuclear power plant can only be restarted by a full-up external power grid; it cannot ‘blackstart’ itself.

A Remedy Example for Local Survival (a relatively quick win).

Need some good news that could be an excellent example of a viable Public-Private (industry) Partnership to actually save lives?  In early Spring of 2012 a plan was proposed by EMPact America, a non-profit organization (emanating from Steuben Foods) in Elma, NY, to ‘hard wire’ (EMP proof) the Niagara Falls Air Force Reserve Base and International Airport located in VERY close proximity, (about 4 miles), from the Lewiston hydroelectric generating plant. This hydro plant has very attractive attributes: it’s a renewable source of energy that cannot be shut down (unless the Great Lakes dry up) by lack of a source water; it has maintained the Analog system (as opposed to the extremely vulnerable and ‘cyber hack-able’ digital system); and has the distinction of being the only power generating plant remaining operational during the 14 August 2003 Northeast blackout previously mentioned.  Best of all, it has the ability to re-start itself (if indeed it ever does shutdown), and most outstandingly, it can facilitate a black start for a downed nuclear power plant!  No single points of failure or other negatives were noted during the initial study by nuclear and electrical engineers from EMPact America.

So, what has been done to date with Niagara Falls-Lewiston hydroelectric power plant proposal for nearly two years?  Absolutely nothing. But if/when it were to be completed it would prove to be a tremendous lifesaver, and a cookie-cutter model for other hydroelectric plants in our nation to emulate.  It could assure capabilities for effective military DSCA at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve base and surrounding communities with secure power to operate by having a viable extended runway (with functioning Air Traffic Control), and the capability to receive/store any available military and civilian assistance aircraft.  Additionally, the base could support a civilian and military command center for continuity of government, operations, and situational awareness, as well as a viable support system for military and civilian emergency services and law enforcement to persist. Also ensured will be the capability to receive, stage, and prepare for onward movement essential life-sustaining goods from any possible unaffected regions, and considerably more (bound only by one’s imagination).  The cost to harden the line from the hydroelectric plant to the air base?  Let’s say probably less than the ‘Cash-4- Clunkers’ debacle of the recent past.  What’s the status of such a doable project?  It’s going nowhere, as there is no action by New York State or Western New York officials to facilitate this initiative for their citizens.  Oh yes, one reminder: it can facilitate a re-start of a downed nuclear power plantYes, that includes nuclear power to New York City.

What else is being done to help you survive?

Here’s more relatively good news (though not much for those not living near military installations).   The Army is leaning forward in the foxhole with testing and development of “islands of power” — micro-grids if you will — to provide sustained power to a select number of military installations.  These micro-grids may consist of photovoltaic, wind, fossil fuel and varied sources of power that could provide at least 20% of power essential for operations.  As this goal is still in the formative testing stage, it will most assuredly take years to put into operation.

The U.S. desperately needs a facility that can actually manufacture transformers at the critical 500kV and 765kV levels that are vital to the U.S. electric load demand.  Right now there are no large EHV transformers produced in the Homeland.  All are foreign made and must be transported to sites in the Homeland, and may require up to two years to manufacture.  It’s well-known in the power industry that moving such large 500kV and 765kV transformer (400+ tons) is among the most complex logistical challenges that exist for transport engineers.  Overall, it takes an intensive 3 to 6 month planning window to coordinate all logistical requirements.  To pull this all together in a short amount of time, days to weeks after a grid down event, will be literally impossible.   Significant planning and preparation is essential on a good day, as such a process requires specialized planning and manning that will be difficult to marshal with respect to transport rail cars, transport truck/trailer, lift-rigs and most importantly trained personnel, who likely may not be available.  Compounding the lack of technicians will be little to no fuel and no power to rail systems.  Yes, plan worst case!

To try to alleviate the EHV problem-set, the DHS has an ongoing transformer replacement initiative called “RecX”, in which they developed and tested a 230kV transformer that is lighter and more portable than the larger EHV transformer.  It has proceeded through a one year test (I could have told them it would succeed, and saved a lot of tax dollars).  When manufactured and distributed, which will also take years, it might prove a limited addition to grid recovery.  However, the RecX initiative will not substitute for the more critical and larger EHV’s.  The unstated fact is that these 230Kv recovery transformers are actually autotransformers, and their design parameters are not broad enough to duplicate and replace critical generator step up (GSU) EHV transformers.  Besides, it was transported from Ohio to Texas in highly optimum transport and installation conditions, and not the highly tenuous conditions likely following a truly catastrophic event.  Sharon Mahmood, DHS’s Science and Technology director told me that the test is over, and it was successful.  With that good news, I wait in anticipation for a manufacturing and distribution plan to be formulated.

A real solution would involve industry planning for better protection of the transformers to begin with for those aging transformers we already have in place and in service.  It’s important to have a sufficient number of spares emplaced now while we have the optimal transport and placement capabilities in order to have ‘offline and protected’ EHV transformers co-located and at the ready.  It’s simple, think and plan worst case!

What, you didn’t know all this is happening around you?

It is unfathomable that you have not been told of these threats by your leaders, especially the one agency entrusted to keep you informed and secure.  That’s right, the DHS.  The threats to your electric grid are real, and have been known by the responsible agencies for too long.

I’ve mentioned previously the importance of thinking and planning for the worst case scenario, as it’s a basic tenet and building block of sound military planning in that a commander’s staff must plan for the worst case situation as part of the military decision making process.  The same should be true for disaster planning by the DHS, FEMA, State and local planners. This is where your government is failing you.  Your leaders at all levels from your town/borough, county/parish, the president, the Congress, the electric industry, DHS, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and surely the Department of Energy have been severely negligent. Not one is making recovery a priority, or even developing scenarios and exercises to deal with a complex, catastrophic event involving a long duration power blackout. Consider that several, if not all 10, FEMA regions in our Homeland could simultaneously be affected with limited to no communications ability, in a severe chemical and radiological HAZMAT environment, with dangerous societal unrest and chaos, and unavailable mutual aid from neighboring FEMA regions or adjacent communities.  Right now, there is absolutely nothing to rely upon, no plans on the shelf to assist in our nation’s survival in what FEMA director Craig Fugate terms a ‘maximum of maxims’.  Of course these agencies have concerned individuals, but they need responsible guidance from their superiors

Strategic level survival actions to date.  

Strategically our Congress and Senate are neutered, and have thus been of no help in ensuring our nation’s survival.  In the past two years your leaders had the chance to pass the truly bipartisan GRID Act (H.R. 668) in 2011, but they failed to do so (picture my shocked look). Simply, this act would have given the federal government the authority to require the electric power industry to protect the national grid from EMP and the loss of essential power, and protect you.  Well, some good news here, as Rep. Trent Franks has reintroduced a similar bill called the SHIELD Act (H.R. 2417) in 2013.  This totally bipartisan bill is literally languishing on Congressman Fred Upton’s desk, and should move forward to a full vote now.

Congressman Franks also introduced another house bill in 2014 called the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA, H.R. 3410) which will ‘require’ the DHS to do what should have been done years ago, and include EMP threats as an additional National Planning Scenario.  This would initiate the crucial plans and scenarios I talked of earlier.  I strongly encourage you to contact your federal representatives and ask them to support these two critical legislative efforts in the 2014 Congress.  Additionally (just for the fun of it) contact your local, county, and state representatives and ask them what they are doing to make your community more resilient in the event of a prolonged electric grid blackout.  Trust me; they won’t be able to answer you.

On the plus side, the State legislature of Maine has been most proactive in considering the welfare and survival of their citizens, and has passed a bill signed by their Governor to start the process of hardening their electric grid.  There currently are ten additional States looking into the example that Maine has shown.  Just recently the legislature of Arizona sent a bill to Governor Brewer asking her to initiate plans for food, water, and shelter in the event of an EMP form a nuclear burst or extreme solar activity.  All States should follow suit, and not wait for the federal government to act.  Now is the time for Governor’s, State Adjutants Generals, and state level emergency services planners to step up to the plate in preparation for the survival of their citizens.

It’s also evident that worries are surfacing among a few electric industry producers relative to the threat of sustaining power in the Homeland after a catastrophic electric grid event.  There are some ongoing initiatives in the form of tabletop workshops and conferences scheduled for this year.  Hopefully, building upon the excellent and informative Congressional EMP Commission report from ‘way back’ in 2008, they can formulate a public-private partnership for our survival and our sovereignty as a nation.

What can you do right now? 

Unfortunately, here I am again with the bad news:  the time needed to “fix” the grid, even if the SHIELD Act or CIPA bill passed today, and NERC and industry got on the ball to help you survive, would take years.  Prudence demands immediate reaction to the knowledge that we possess.  Will you and your community leaders be prepared for a prolonged blackout?  Again, do not continue to think in the limiting terms of the 72 hour mantra, as DHS states!  Strive to prepare and stock as much provision as possible within your capacity to do so, for as long a term as you are financially able to — preferably a year or more.  MOST IMPORTANT TO REALIZE is that you cannot go it alone!  Ban together in neighborhoods and communities for support and ‘security’.  A great deal of food in reserve will not do you any good whatsoever if you lose it to looters or scavengers during a prolonged power outage.  I’m not much of an advocate of ‘it takes a village’ mantra, but in this particular case it’s very true.  Your community and neighborhood likely includes carpenters, mechanics, dentists, medics, police, teachers, soldiers, plumbers, and many other varied skilled tradesmen that will be instrumental in survival.  You and your neighbors, planning and working together right now, will facilitate community protection and survival in times of chaos.  Remember, there are many fellow citizens to help guide and inform you.  Lend your expertise to help others and gather your communities together, as it’s the only way in which you will survive.  Most importantly, talk to your leaders and demand that they do their job.

“Normally it is left up to us first responders to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We can only do so much; it has to be a community effort, both government and the private sector.  We didn’t build our cities by government alone, and when something BIG happens, government will never be able to do it alone.”

–  Fire Chief Pat Sullivan, Gulfport, MS

To take one step further, consider joining an organization which is fighting for your survival, EMPact America:  EMPact America is a no cost, dedicated non-profit and non-partisan group (which will not take any contributions), and exists only to prepare individuals and communities to work and survive together.

I must admit that I wrote this article written for a personal motive, with the express purpose of not having the same horrors occur in my Homeland that I witnessed as a young man in Vietnam ’67-‘68, and later after two assignments as an older man in the Bosnia-Herzegovina tragedy.  Both had common citizens (mostly families) fighting for the basics of survival.  Seeing individuals and families walking along the main supply routes, with no expectation of any assistance whatsoever, not knowing where their next meal will come from, or good water to drink, or safe shelter for their children stays in one’s memory for life.

It can, indeed, happen here in an instant.

     For our own survival, and for the survival of our children and our Homeland, we and our government must act now.  If you remember nothing else from this message, remember that in the end you are your own first responder, and inevitably on your own for planning.

Remember the power of one: you!


Ken Chrosniak a retired Army officer.  He is an active firefighter with Carlisle Fire Rescue, a member of Cumberland Goodwill Ambulance (EMS) Company, EMPact America, and the FBI InfraGard EMP Special Interest Group.

*The opinions noted within this article are those of the author, and cannot be attributed to any government or non-government entity to which the author is or has been associated.