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  • Lights Out: Cyber Attack on Our Grid More Than Likely

    A former secretary of homeland security believes there is an 80-90% chance that a cyber-attack on our grid will happen.

    Lights Out Book Cover - cyber attack via Penguin Random House

    Ted Koppel, renowned broadcast journalist and anchor for Nightline for 25 years, recently published a book about the lack of preparedness in American when it comes to cyber-attacks and our power grid. The book is called “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath” and is a culmination of his investigative reporting regarding the safety of our power grid and the possibility of falling victim to cyber attacks.

    His results were less than comforting.

    Yesterday Ted Koppel was interview on KUER, a radio broadcast out of the University of Utah. In that interview, he spoke of how it is hard to convince people about certain things if they believe otherwise, even if their beliefs aren’t true. For many, they don’t believe a major cyber attack on our power grid is likely, so they don’t believe contrary reports, and therefore don’t prepare ahead.

    Koppel brought up the recent government hack by China in which 22.1 million government official records were stolen. That’s a big deal, and yet he said “we kind of just shrugged and moved on.” If China can do that, they can certainly remove our power.

    Now, Koppel doesn’t believe China will go to that extreme, but there are surely other nations and extremist groups out there that would.

    cyber attack via WBUR

    If our power grid does get attacked and we are left without power, we might be left to our own devices for weeks or even months. If this is the case – and all evidence suggest that it will be – we will need food, water, medicine, and other necessities to last us as long as we’re left in the dark, if not longer.

    As a nation, are we ready? According to Koppel, “we really aren’t prepared in any sense.” He calls us a “reactive society,” meaning we do not tend to be preventive in our actions, but rather decide what to do after an event, not before. When the grid goes down, it will be too late to prepare, no matter how fast we react.

    While we like to think the government will step in and lend us aid, that way of thinking could lead to some very uncomfortable months following a disaster of this scale. There won’t be enough supplies stocked up by government agencies to see all of our needs. After all, there are just under 320 million people in the United States. Caring for all of them would be quite an undertaking, and quite frankly, it’s not one the government seems to feel responsible for.

    And should they? During an emergency, your best bet is to be personally prepared. Even if the government had help coming, it could still take days or weeks to reach you, despite their preparedness.

    Koppel continued this discussion of preparedness by pointing to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The LDS Church, Ted Koppel found, recommends its members to have at least three to six months’ supply of food and water, and not just for a potential grid failure. This storage is to be proactive for anything that comes along, including job loss, disability, and other natural disasters - which includes a cyber attack on our grid. Koppel praised the LDS Church for their preparedness mindset, and said that they “stand as an example of what can be done.”

    The LDS Church isn’t providing these emergency supplies to the members, but each individual family is responsible for their own stewardship. You, too, can take the responsibility on yourself to prepare for your needs and those of your family. It takes some planning and budgeting, but it is very doable.

    Ted Koppel concluded his interview by saying there is value in the act of preparation itself. We need to be ready for all kinds of disasters, and each subsequent step we take will only leave us better off when something does come. Finally, he believes it is harmful to not talk about the dangers we may face. Preparing in advance is discussing plans, solutions, and potential issues we may not be able to prepare for once a disaster happens.


    What are your thoughts on a cyber-attack on our grid? What are you doing to prepare?


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - cyber attack

  • Strong Geomagnetic Storm Could Hit Earth Today and Tomorrow

    Today and tomorrow, the earth will be hit by what one scientist called a “fire hose” of supercharged particles from a hole in the corona of the sun. The hole has kind of acted like a spinning sprinkler: as the sun has rotated, the hole has stayed open and sent its stream of solar plasma in a 360 degree arc around the solar system. The earth already passed through it once, on October 7 and 8.

    Solar Flare - Washington Post via. The Washington Post

    This hole creates a 90 percent likelihood for strong geomagnetic storms in the far northern hemisphere. Geomagnetic storms are disruptions in the earth’s magnetic field that are usually associated with solar storms. Parts to solar storms are solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar radiation events. They can take place all at once, though small solar flares occur on their own almost daily.

    The sun constantly barrages the earth with charged particles, called solar wind. Normally, the magnetic field around the earth stops most of the particles – and creates the aurora borealis light shows. Especially during times of high sunspot activity, however, the sun can eject a blast of electromagnetic (EM) radiation, called a solar flare. Radio waves, visible light, x-rays, and ultraviolet radiation are some types of electromagnetic radiation. A large solar flare can hit the earth’s upper atmosphere with the force a million times stronger than a volcano. It can cause degradation and even blackouts of service for electronic devices like cell phones, GPS, and radios. Solar flares typically last from one to three hours and affect the sunlit side of the earth.

    Power Grid - PBS via PBS

    One NASA writer compared a solar flare to a cannon flash and a coronal mass ejection (CME) to the cannonball. A CME usually takes two to three days to hit the earth, though they can be faster. When it slams into the earth’s magnetic field, it causes a geomagnetic storm. Geomagnetic storms can mess with infrastructure in several ways, including satellites, the power grid, and even metal pipes. For example, geomagnetic storms can bump satellites out of place and cause damage to the satellites themselves. If a communication network uses a satellite, it won’t work until the satellite is moved back into place.

    Geomagnetic storms can mess with electrical currents and overload utilities.

    A 1989 geomagnetic storm took only 90 seconds to collapse a northeastern Canada power grid. Millions of people lost power for up to nine hours. The storm also caused minor damage throughout the U.S.

    Damage to power infrastructure comes because rogue currents from the geomagnetic storm piggyback on power lines and metal pipelines.

    They can travel thousands of miles and in the process scramble the carefully calibrated currents. This can cause overheating that can melt the copper wires in transformers and destroy them. A burned-out, multi-ton transformer can take months to fix.

    The power grid is more interconnected than ever. On a hot day, Los Angeles might get some of its power from Oregon. So an extreme storm that causes a power blackout in Oregon could also cause catastrophic power grid failure in southern California.

    A 2008 study by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that a solar storm like one in 1859 that was the largest recorded could cause $2 trillion in damage during the first year alone. That’s 20 times greater than Hurricane Katrina.

    Aurora - NASA via NASA

    Report co-author John Kappenmann of the Metatech Corporation looked at a May 1921 geomagnetic storm with ground currents ten times stronger than the 1989 Quebec storm but half the size of the 1859 one. He estimated 130 million people without power. That would shut down every other aspect of the infrastructure: "water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on,” the study said.

    "The concept of interdependency," the report notes, "is evident in the unavailability of water due to long-term outage of electric power--and the inability to restart an electric generator without water on site."

    That means, by the way, that many toilets wouldn’t work because many water utilities use electric pumps.

    Now, in case the odds of all this seem improbable, in 2012,a monster solar storm estimated to be as strong as the 1859 one, and containing two CMEs, barely missed the earth.

    "If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado told NASA.

    The White House on Thursday announced a plan to prepare for major solar storms by working with a several government, nonprofit and for-profit agencies to better prepare infrastructure and to study solar storms to provide more warning.

    “The plan was motivated by a recognition that we need a cohesive national network to build resilience [to space weather] and to determine what we need to know,” Bill Murtagh, assistant director for space weather at White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told The Washington Post.  “This is a real and present danger, this is a real threat.”

    Now, NASA sends out a warning between 45 and 60 minutes before a geomagnetic storm develops. On October 26, for example, NASA issued a warning about a minor CME that glanced off the earth’s atmosphere.

    After a power grid disaster, government and utilities’ highest priorities will be getting power plants online and making sure medical facilities and first responders have the power they need, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    “Homeowners, business owners, and local leaders may have to take an active role in dealing with energy disruptions on their own,” the DOE wrote.

    Here are some ways to prepare, from Ready.gov, the American Red Cross and the DOE.

    • Have a fully stocked emergency kit including food and water, a flashlight, batteries, cash in small bills and first aid supplies.
    • Keep cell phones and other battery-powered devices charged and have an alternative charging method.
    • Keep the car’s gas tank full. A vehicle’s battery can be a temporary power source – but not indoors, unless carbon monoxide poisoning sounds like fun.
    • Those who use a power-dependent or battery-operated medical device, should tell their local utility so it can prioritize their home. They should also have a backup plan.
    • Find out where to buy dry ice. Fifty pounds will keep a fully stocked fridge cold for two days. Without it, an unopened fridge will keep food cold for only about four hours. A half-full, unopened freezer will keep food cold for about 24 hours. Food in a packed, unopened freezer will stay cold for twice that long.

    In the meantime, today and tomorrow sky watchers as far south as Oregon and Idaho may get to see auroras. Enjoy.


  • Why You Should Prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse

    You peek out the window, careful not to be seen. The moon is full, but it’s still dark outside. The streetlights aren’t on – they haven’t been for days. It’s late, and all you want to do is go to sleep. But you can’t. Not now. Not ever. At least, not with those things out there.

    There is a group of them, nearby, meandering towards your home. You hear the soft sound of fleshy feet, dragging and scraping across the pavement. They hunt at night, searching for anything living to feast upon. They amble along, arms outstretched, moaning and groaning in their brainless way, searching for food.

    Ironic that brains are what they feed on.


    Zombie Apocalypse


    Our world has become mildly obsessed with the idea of a zombie apocalypse. In fact, I was looking at some emergency preparedness articles on cdc.gov (try not to act surprised), when I came across something I really didn’t expect to find on a government website – Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.

    That’s right. Zombies. The government is spending your hard-earned tax dollars to promote zombie preparedness. Here’s a snippet from their Zombie Apocalypse post:

    “There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

    It looks as if our fictitious fantasies have finally spiraled into something that is near kin to reality.

    And that’s fantastic.

    Zombie apocalypses and “real emergencies” (as they say) actually have a lot in common. Let’s look at some of the basics of preparing for zombies. What will you need?



    Zombies in Water - Zombie ApocalypseIf a zombie ends up in your water supply (river, lake, etc.), you’re pretty much hosed. I don’t think I would feel comfortable drinking that water even if it was just my brother in the water. But a zombie? Forget it.

    In reality, our water supply can be cut off like an undead’s arm with a sword. If you have an alternate source of water, however, you’ll be just fine. This goes far beyond zombies, too. This goes for drought, water contamination during floods, or a broken water main in the city. Zombies are terrifying, sure, but being without water during any emergency is just as scary. Having a supply of water – or water filter – is one of the most important steps in survival.



    Closed Forever - Zombie ApocalypseDuring a zombie apocalypse, you might be able to get some pretty cheap food at the abandoned grocery store down the block, but you’re also walking into a trap. With only one exit and lots of places for zombies to hide, you’ll be lucky at all to get out with food. And who’s to say it hasn’t been contaminated by zombies already, or molded over or whatnot?

    Zombies. Tell ya what. They really do make a mess of things.

    But before the apocalypse comes, what are some more crises that you haven’t thought of yet where your food storage could come in handy? What about a tornado taking out your grocery store? Truck drivers going on strike could jack up food prices – or keep food from coming in at all. If you lose your job tomorrow, will you have food storage to live off until you can find something else? Accidents can also happen (not just when running from zombies) that can make you lose work for an extended period of time. Will you have food ready for those unexpected times?


    First Aid Kit

    Look. If you get bit by a zombie, there’s not much I can do for you. Sorry. But if you’re running from a zombie and need to be patched up, I’ve got you covered.

    First aid kits are essential to have around. They contain those all-important tools to hold you together when all your body wants to do is fall apart (but don’t worry, you’re not a zombie yet). Patching up cuts, scrapes, and other minor injuries can be a game changer in any emergency. Don’t leave home without one.


    Anyway, you get the picture. You can go to the CDC website for a more in-depth list of some useful items to use in a zombie apocalypse…or other emergency.

    Are you prepared for a zombie apocalypse? If you are, you’ll most likely have everything you need for anything else – earthquake, flood, power outage, job loss – you name it. So if you are prepared, I salute you.

    Now, lastly – Ow, hey! I think something just bit me! Ug. I feel funny.

    I think…


    Braaiinnss. Braaaaiiiinnnnss!

    Zombie Blogger - Zombie Apocalypse


    How are you prepared for a zombie apocalypse? Happy Halloween!


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Zombie Apocalypse

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