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  • What Everyone Should Know About a Power Grid Attack

    The United States’ power grid has flaws. In fact, we’re definitely not the leader when it comes to protecting our grid. According to Glenn Reynolds, author of many books and the widely popular political blog Instapundit, the Ukraine has better gird security than we do here, and yet they were still hacked in a grand, elaborate manner. So what does that mean for us?

    New York City after Sandy - Power Grid Attack New York City was without power for many days following Hurricane Sandy.

    Well, it means we still have a lot of work to do as a country. Even President Obama admits we’re lagging behind in grid security. So they’re working on it. But, as Reynolds pointed out, the way the government reacted to expected disasters, such as hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, we might be left in the dark for a very long time if our power grid gets compromised. An attack to our grid is something that has never happened before, and if we struggle to recover after expected disasters like hurricanes, then we may very well be left tin the dark for a very long time if our grid goes down.

    Ted Koppel, author of the bestselling book Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, calls us a “reactive society,” meaning we don’t tend to be preventive in our actions, but rather decide what to do after an event. When the grid goes down, the time to prepare will be far gone.

    And with the help we can expect from the government (think back to Sandy and Katrina), relying on them might take quite a while. So while you wait for the country’s grid to come back online, how will you be living? Hopefully not in the dark. While it’s not entirely feasible for everybody to set up to go off the grid, it most certainly wouldn’t hurt to do what you can. While this article isn’t about the various methods of going completely off-grid, you can find one of our posts describing off-grid power solutions by clicking here.

    We plan for all sorts of natural disasters because we’ve seen then; they’re common. But we haven’t been the victim of a power grid attack. We haven’t seen how dark it really can be if our power is taken away from us. And so, since we haven’t seen it first-hand, many people just aren’t preparing. This is a complacency problem, and one we need to fix.

    Solar panels - Power Grid Attack Small solar panels can help charge your devices and give you power when other sources refuse to work.

    As was mentioned, going off-grid might be all but impossible for most of us. That being said, we can still collect power on a smaller scale from the sun. Solar panels have become much more portable and cost-efficient. By having a few of these in your emergency prep, you can power your devices and even charge larger power packs. So, if the grid were to go down, you wouldn’t be completely powerless (so to speak).

    But it’s not just extra power you’ll be worried about. You’ll need a way too cook, and most likely you’ll need actual food to cook, too. Then there’s the issue of water. These two necessities of life might be very difficult to come by in a grid-down situation. That’s one reason why prepping for other disasters is so important – if you’re prepared for one, you’re well on your way to being prepared for more.

    But think about what would happen if the grid went down during the winter. In the case of the cyber-attack in the Ukraine, the hackers cause widespread power outages on December 23. If you’re not familiar with Ukrainian weather, it can get pretty cold that time of year. Bringing this back a little closer to home, what would you do if the power went out for a long time during the winter? Would you have enough blankets? Warm clothing? A way to power a heater? Just some things to think about.

    As a nation, we have grown mighty accustomed to the conveniences of power whenever we want it. That could all be gone in a moment. Are you prepared for something of that magnitude? We don’t think about it often because it hasn’t happened to us yet. But it can. And if it does – I ask again – will you be prepared?

     

    How are you prepared for widespread power outages?

     

    February - Power Banner - Power Grid Attack

  • The White House Is Prepping for Solar Storms…Are You?

    We are constantly at threat of disaster, and unfortunately, they don’t all originate here on Earth. No, I’m not talking about alien invasions (although I’m sure those would be important to prepare for, too). I’m talking about our mild-mannered yellow dwarf star, also known as the Sun.

    Our sun is a wonderful thing. It gives us light, warmth, and helps grow our food. But it’s also the source of extreme power and, if unleashed on us here on Earth, could cause major problems to our power grid.

    Actually…that’s already happened.

    Magnetosphere_rendition - NASA Solar wind striking Earth's magnetosphere - via NASA

    Usually, our magnetic field just deflects solar wind. If it comes at us strong enough, however, it can break through our magnetic force field. In 1989, a solar surge knocked out power in Quebec, Canada for nine hours, effectively collapsing Hydro-Quebec’s electricity transmission system. Other electrical utilities in the U.S. also encountered problems due to the solar storm.

    But 9 hours without power? That’s a long time! And that solar storm wasn’t even as big as they come. According to experts on the Space Studies Board, all we need is one massive solar surge and we’d have economic damages of up to $2 trillion!

    For a bit of perspective, with that much money you could buy all the sports leagues in the United States. We’re not talking just NFL. We’re talking MLB, NBA, NHL, and NASCAR, too! Then, if you felt like it, you could buy them all again, and still have lots of money left over. Oh, and that includes teams and rosters. Yeah. $2 trillion is a lot of money.

    But don’t worry, the White House has a plan to counter this nasty space weather. According to a Yahoo! article, a strategic plan has been put into place to prepare for damaging solar eruptions. Alright, so there’s not much we can actually do to prevent this kind of solar attack, but there are steps being taken to minimize the damage.

    Sun Doing Things - NASA via NASA

    Just like any good disaster, if we can predict it, we can be better prepared. Such is the case with solar storms. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center is constantly monitoring the sun, so we can know when the next blast is heading our way. This will give us 12-15 hours’ notice, so the proper agencies can be alerted, thus allowing them time to take the proper precautions. Still, that’s not a lot of time, but it’s certainly more than we’d get from a tornado or an earthquake. We’ll take what we can get.

    NOAA also has what they call a space tsunami buoy floating out nearly a million miles from Earth, floating gently between us and the sun. When the space buoy gets pummeled by solar wind, we have 15-60 minutes before the storm hits Earth. That’s when we know how big the storm will be, too. Again, not much time, but at least it’s something.

    The White House has also enlisted two dozen other national agencies and departments to step up to this celestial threat. Engineering standards will rise, risk will be better understood, and there will be all around better planning for response and recovery. And it’s not just us. The European Space Agency is also working on developing a warning network. After all, we’re stronger when we work together.

    But that’s all fine and good for the government. But while they’re scurrying around trying to get the grid back up and running for you, how are you and your family holding up?

    You don’t have to be living in the city where your power plant is located to be effected by a solar storm. Once the grid goes down in one area, it can go down for many, many other parts of the country. This is why it’s so important to have emergency backups. Do you have emergency lights? What about alternative power supplies? The power outage in Quebec lasted 9 hours, and that wasn’t even the biggest solar storm we can expect (although it was certainly one of the largest so far).

    Power Outage with CandlesIf the grid goes down for an entire day – or two, or three – will you have a way to cook for your family? Will you have lights so your children can be comforted? These are some things to think about. When it comes to solar storms. The thing about the sun beating away at our planet is that we are all at risk. When it took out the power plant in Quebec, parts of New York and other areas in New England were also affected.

    If you already have emergency power and lighting, make sure you take time to check it over a few times a year, just to make sure it’s still in good working condition. If you don’t…well, there’s no better time than the present to start getting your gear together. Check out our power and lighting options to get started.

     

    How are you preparing for solar storms?

     

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  • Does Cyber Security Give Us a False Sense of Security?

    Cyber SecurityImagine if hackers, in the guise of copper thieves, broke into power company facilities and deposited malware on their computers. Through those computers, hackers get into others, including those from other companies. Over a three-day period, these computers – key to keeping the power flowing – send suspect commands, forcing shutdowns, causing overloads and endangering the flow of electricity from hundreds of entities spread over thousands of miles. Power companies can’t communicate effectively because the malware might have infected e-mail and teleconferencing software. Power is restored, but only at a limited capacity, days to weeks later.

    Actually, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation imagined this in a 2011 exercise, and continues to practice similar scenarios.

    Journalist Ted Koppel, the anchor of Nightline for 25 years, also imagined this in his non-fiction book “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared.” The book discusses the possibility of a cyber attack that leaves millions without power for weeks or months. His scenario includes cities running out of resources in days, the possibility of mass evacuations and the prospect of widespread civil disorder.

    In an interview with the University of Utah, he said a cyber attack on the power grid is very likely.
    “When I posed that question to former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, she put the likelihood at 80 or 90 percent,” he said.

    cyber security

    About once every four days, part of one of the nation’s power grids is hit with a physical or cyber attack, according to a USA Today story published March 24. The story described an attack on Pacific Gas & Electric’s Metcalf substation in northern California. Attackers cut underground fiber-optic lines and fired more than 100 rounds of ammunition at the substation’s transformers. Though no one lost power, damage was more than $15 million.

    Utilities aren’t the only sector facing cyber and physical attack.

    Fiber-optic cables, the backbone of high-speed Internet access, run for hundreds of miles under sometimes-sparse landscape. Fourteen times in the last year, someone has attacked cables in northern California. The latest attack, on September 15, affected Internet access to Livermore, home to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

    “Everything from phone calls to computer transactions, emails, and even the security cameras feeds watching the cables themselves travel down the plastic or glass fibers as pulses of light,” according to the story.

    Sixty-six percent of Americans bank online, according to a September survey from the National Cyber Security Alliance and ESET, an IT security company. Sixty-one percent shop online. Seventy-four percent do social networking, and 28 percent use the Internet to work from home.

    Although the Internet is designed to route around damaged areas, slowdowns and stoppages can happen.

    During and after the September 11, 2001 attacks, disruption to Internet service in lower Manhattan “cascaded to degradation of service in the Greater New York City area,” according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Homeland Security report. Fortunately, national Internet access remained intact.

    On the bright side, people can do some things to mitigate damage.

    First, have a small cash reserve. Ann House, coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at the University of Utah recommended keeping several hundred dollars in small bills with an emergency kit.

    cyber security Stock up on food and water before a disaster hits.

    Second, have a food and water storage. Koppel’s book described a nightmare scenario in which “Supermarket and pharmacy shelves are empty in a matter of hours. It is a shock to discover how quickly a city can exhaust its food supplies. Stores do not readily adapt to panic buying, and many city dwellers, accustomed to ordering out, have only scant supplies at home. There is no immediate resupply, and people become desperate.”

    Third, keep electronic devices charged and have a way to provide a small amount of power for personal needs. Check out our small generators and other power supplies here! Or, keep a full gas tank and charge devices in the car – being aware that in a major power outage, most gas station pumps won’t work, according to Koppel.

    Fourth, keep copies of important information readily accessible and not just stored on the computer.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends storing important documents on a cloud-based service or an external hard drive or thumb drive in a fireproof, waterproof box.

    Important documents include government-issued ID papers, prescriptions or warranties for medical equipment, insurance paperwork, rental or mortgage agreements and photos or movies of each room in the house. FEMA provides an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit to help identify records to keep safe at home.

     

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