Wednesday, November 16, 2016

When the lights go out

For the most part, public reaction to the possibility of a massive cyberattack has not even risen to the level of apathy.
Ted Koppel. Lights Out

A power outage lasting a few minutes or even a couple of hours can be an annoyance or an inconvenience. It might even be fun lighting candles and sitting together in the dark for a short time. I recall one outage that served as a nice excuse to take my wife out of town for dinner. But what if the power went out over a large, multi-state area for weeks, even months. How would most of us -- dependent upon electric power for staying warm (or cool), preparing food, doing our jobs and communicating -- survive? Imagine the chaos. Imagine the potential for violence. Imagine the suffering and death.

Ted Koppel
Ted Koppel does more than imagine all this in his new book Lights Out. He asks the tough questions, often of those in the energy industry and government who have yet to take such questions seriously.

Koppel refers to the Internet as "a weapon of mass destruction." Already, we know, hackers in Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and elsewhere have created havoc downloading supposedly secure files and shutting down websites. It may only be a matter of time before someone manages to shut down a massive power grid. Why fly airliners into skyscrapers when terrorists can do so much more damage a half a world away just by punching in the right code on a keyboard? It is only a matter of figuring out how to do it.

The energy companies, still largely self-regulated, continue to give a higher priority to profit than security, the author says. Meanwhile Congress, bogged down in politics, has other priorities, as well. Writes Koppel, "the individual can't do anything and the government won't do anything."

Actually there is something the individual can do. So far, those self-reliant folks in places like Wyoming and members of the Mormon church are the best prepared, not because they expect terrorists to cut off their power but just because being ready for disaster is what they do. Koppel devotes three of 20 chapters to the Mormon practice of stockpiling enough food and other supplies to last a year.

It's an example most of us could follow if we would only buy a little extra food and other supplies during each trip to the market and store it under beds and behind sofas. If the lights ever do go out like Ted Koppel warns us they will, such stockpiles could save our lives.

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