Friday, March 21, 2014

No sitting ducks


    People in the Sun Valley area know what happens when the power goes out. But what would happen if such an outage was extended for 18 months—nationwide?
    On Christmas Eve in 2009, the lights went out here and didn’t come on for more than 24 hours. On Christmas Day, the ski lifts weren’t moving and people in the valley were trying to figure out how to stay warm and put together a hot meal while they wondered if and when power would be restored. The owners of shops and service businesses wondered if and when they would be able to open. But at all times, it was unimaginable that power wouldn’t be restored.
    This winter, sections of the Eastern seaboard and Midwest had similar and sometimes longer experiences of being without power.
    In a front-page story on March 13, The Wall Street Journal reported that a study last year by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that disabling nine of the nation’s 55,000 electrical substations could knock out power nationwide for months. It also found that the lack of interconnected regional electrical systems could leave regions that continued to generate power unable to help those without.
    The image of the entire nation, or huge blocks of it, without power is nearly incomprehensible. Lives would be at risk. Cities and states simply would not function. Transportation systems—trucks, cars, ships and airplanes—would be rendered helpless. Gas pumps wouldn’t work without electricity. Food production and delivery could dry up.
    What would happen to civil society in such a crisis is anyone’s guess.
    The revelations about the FERC study’s conclusions should be a call to action. The U.S. government in conjunction with the nation’s power companies should rally the nation’s resources to close this serious vulnerability and harden the defenses at the key power stations.
    It’s a truism that life is never free of risk. But in an age where the threat of terrorism is both foreign and domestic, it’s necessary to analyze the threats and identify major vulnerabilities. It’s important to realize that not all terrorism comes in the form of hijacked airliners.
    We simply must not let our power systems continue to be sitting ducks.




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