The Biggest, Most Likely Disaster You’re Not Prepared For

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The Wall Street Journal warned us about it.

It keeps government officials up at night.

But the vast majority of Americans are completely unprepared for this disaster:

We’re talking about power grid cyber attack.

We, as a society, are hooked on electricity. So many people take it for granted, and can’t imagine a world where they couldn’t flip a switch and cook their food, heat their home, communicate with family or co-workers, or access all of the date we have stored in the cloud.

The US power grid is one of the most important, and most vulnerable, systems in the country. Every single critical infrastructure, from communications to water, relies upon its function. Without the power grid, our country can’t conduct business. We can’t do our banking. We can’t even milk our cows.

America is not ready for the grid to go down.

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But it might. In fact, it probably will. And the government knows it.

The President of the United States stated two years ago that “For those who would seek to do our Nation significant physical, economic, and psychological harm, the electrical grid is an obvious target.”

The power grid isn’t only a target because of how essential it is to the inner-workings of our society, but also because of how weak it is.

The power grid, like many other areas of technology, is automated and remotely controlled. That leaves a network of 160,000 miles of transmission lines, and 55,000 sub-stations very vulnerable. Many major substations of the power grid are completely unmanned, secured from physical attack only by a single, chain-linked fence.

But physical attack isn’t the only, or even the biggest, threat to the system. Cyber hacking is growing as the primary threat to our country’s security, including our energy security. Defending the power grid as a whole is extremely challenging, since there are about 3,200 utilities, all which operation only a portion of the grid, though most of the individual networks are interconnected. With this sort of complicated, multi-faceted network, it’s hard to pick up on a malevolent attack, when there’s so many different administrators involved. The lack of coordination of power grid ownership and leadership doesn’t lend itself well to security.

The Wall Street Journal says it well:

“The grid was cobbled together during the electrification of the U.S. over the past 125 years. It is a fragile, interdependent system. There is so much variability in the grid that what cases a catastrophe one day might not the next, which makes security issues complex. Small problems can quickly spiral out of control.”

Federal officials are very aware of this problem. Almost twenty years ago, officials stated that “virtually any region would suffer major, extended blackouts if more than three key substations were destroyed.” Despite this knowledge, they have done very little about it.

SolarPanels

Having your own capacity for back up power might be the only thing standing between you and disaster

One journalist, Ted Koppel, ventured to ask government officials flat-out what they were doing about this threat to our country. His findings were disturbing. When he asked government security officials about their plan of action if the power grid ever went down, they became uncooperative and defensive, giving Koppel oversimplified and unclear answers. Koppel could only gather from these responses that there really was no plan. At least, not one that was accessible to the people who would be most affected by a prolonged outage (so, everyone.)

The country’s usual response to disaster includes evacuation, increased supervision, and emergency aid. But in the case of tens of millions of homes without power, this action wouldn’t take care of the situation. Evacuation wouldn’t make sense, supervision would never be adequate, and emergency aid would be depleted within days. Koppel speculates that the government doesn’t have a plan because they don’t know where to start. The situation would be bleak, with few good options, if any.

So where does that leave us?

If we can’t depend on the power grid, and we can’t depend on the government to adequately protect us from grid failure, it’s time to take our power into our own hands.

We’re talking about building up your own energy fortress. It’s up to you to make sure you have back-up power–stored energy that you can tap into whenever you need it. Instead of wondering when the next power outage will hit, you can know that you’ll still have the electricity you need to keep your outlets up, your light on, your devices charged, and your refrigerator running. With this sort of security, you can know that your household, and those closest to you, are protected from anything the power grid throws your way.

What does energy security look like?

Mounting Solar panels on roofs or moveable panels allow for easy access for maintenance.

Mounting Solar panels on roofs or moveable panels allow for easy access for maintenance.

There’s actually one very good option for individual businesses and homeowners, and it’s available right now: Batteries.

Energy storage could change everything. Think of it this way — households independent from the grid won’t even notice a grid outage… that is, until their grid-connected neighbors come knocking.

Households equipped with solar panels and energy storage in the form of home batteries will be completely protected from any utility company mishap, whether it be on a large or small-scale. Home batteries allow households to power their own essential appliances like refrigerators, water pumps, and heating/cooling devices with stored electricity collected from renewable energy sources like solar panels. The grid may be vulnerable, but the sun? Not so much.

Energy storage changes the entire conversation about grid vulnerability. We don’t have to talk about prolonged power outages as an impending probability, but a situation that can be avoided altogether. Home batteries put the power back into the hands of the consumer, and back into the appliances and systems we need to sustain our lives.

The largest most likely threat to our everyday lives–a power grid attack—doesn’t have to be a threat at all. You don’t have to live in fear, connected to a power grid that could fail at any moment, leaving you and your family in a vulnerable, and potentially life-threatening situation. Instead, information about this threat can motivate you to adopt a new way of creating, storing, and consuming energy.

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