GRID AND BEAR IT
BLACKOUT THREAT MATRIX
MONOLOGUE WRITTEN BY CLYDE LEWIS
I had a busy weekend working with my wife on her new podcast that is supposed to air this Wednesday at 7:00 PM pacific on The Fringe FM. I knew it would be an early day and even when I woke up at 4:00 AM, I dozed off and made her late. I wanted to do some shopping on Saturday before I appeared at The Ground Zero Lounge. My friend texted me and said you might as well not go shopping because the Target stores are going to close.
I thought, “what, are they going out of business?”
I just received news that a Walgreens a few blocks from my home was shutting down due to criminal activity that has been going on there for some time.
But no, Target wasn’t shutting down for good – I was informed that all of their cash registers were down and that there were long lines because of it.
It threw my schedule off because I wanted to buy a shirt and a few things for my appearance at the Ground Zero Lounge.
I did not have time to figure out what went wrong but then I got an alert on my phone that South America was plunged into a blackout.
I mentioned it at the Ground Zero Lounge. I said that I did not have details and wondered if it had any connection to the earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand.
After having a moment to read about what happened, I was a bit worried about what could happen here in the United States.
The blackout that happened in South America left millions without power in Argentina and Uruguay.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri promised a thorough investigation into the cause of what he called an unprecedented outage. Energy officials said the findings would not be available for 10 to 15 days, and they had no immediate estimate of the economic damage from the 14-hour power failure.
While the precise cause has yet to be established, the blackout originated at a transmission point between two power stations in the country’s northeast when the system was getting too much power, a chain of events then caused a total disruption.
Officials have not ruled out a cyber attack. Others say that it is highly unlikely.
Juan Balda, a native of Argentina who is head of the electric engineering department at the University of Arkansas, speculated that a short circuit in a transmission line, caused perhaps by a fallen tree limb or lightning set off a “domino effect,” tripping a series of protective circuits that shut down power plants one after another. A similar chain of events led to a blackout in the U.S. Northeast and Canada in 2003.
The power failure in South America happened with winter about to begin in the Southern Hemisphere. Blackouts are much more common in the summer when the use of air conditioners pushes the grid to the maximum.
While energy officials defended the Argentine power system as “robust,” the grid had been known to be in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years.
The power failure began about 7:00 AM, with nearly all of Argentina’s population of 44 million, all 3.5 million people in neighboring Uruguay and many more in rural parts of Paraguay waking up to darkness.
Subways and commuter trains came to a stop in Buenos Aires, while phone and internet communications were disrupted, water supplies cut off and shops forced to close. Patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.
Power was almost fully restored by Sunday night, though Argentina’s electricity regulator said thousands remained without service on Monday.
A similar outage in Brazil left more than 60 million in the dark in 2009. Three months ago, crisis-torn Venezuela suffered its worst power failure.
In 2003, about 50 million people in eight U.S. and Canada were hit by a cascading blackout that began when a tree branch in Ohio touched a power line.
Power outages can be caused by such things as equipment failures, bad weather, cyber attacks, and sabotage.
Cascading outages happen when power surges and automatic equipment shutoffs sweep through a system.
Even if that incident in Argentina turns out to have a more innocent explanation, the U.S. government is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s power grid, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing unnamed officials.
The New York Times published a controversial revelation that we have escalated cyber attacks at Russia and had placed potentially crippling malware inside the Russian power system.
The placement of the malware that deep within the Russian grid had never previously been attempted, the Times reports, and is intended partly as a warning and also to put the US in a position to conduct cyber attacks should a significant conflict arise with Russia.
I am sure this means that there are attempted counterstrikes happening in the United States and if the grid is hacked we could see power failures and computer service failures inside the United States.
This last weekend shopper at Target experienced a little of what it would be like if internet systems crashed making it difficult or even impossible to buy groceries or even withdraw cash from ATM’s.
Target stores across the country were down due to what a Target spokesperson said was “an internal technology issue” and was not caused by a data breach or security-related problem. It was not immediately clear how many of the company’s 1,850 U.S. stores were affected, though shoppers reported outages in several states. The hashtag #targetdown was trending worldwide on Twitter.
Shoppers posted photos of long lines snaking through stores and said employees were handing out chips, drinks, and popcorn. Some cashiers were using handheld devices to manually enter bar codes so customers could check out.
In 2013, a large-scale data breach at Target affected more than 40 million shoppers who had their names and credit card information stolen during the busy holiday shopping season. The blowback was swift: The retailer spent $202 million on related costs and later paid $18.5 million to settle with 47 states and the District.
On Saturday, Target executives offered few clues into what had happened. Shoppers said employees across the country sprung into action — they handed out samples of mascara and shampoo in Ohio, fruit snacks in Missouri and strawberry chocolate-chip Frappuccinos in Oklahoma.
In Marlton, N.J., Target employees offered strawberry lemonade and 5 percent discounts to those who remained in line. About an hour in, workers told shoppers they would hold their carts for 24 hours if they wanted to come back and pay for their purchases.
Whenever a company with a security breach track record says that “an internal technology” issue has occurred – I again worry about Malware that creeps into internet systems that shut down phones, freeze bank accounts, and reveal passwords and other personal information.
All of this can be done by hackers or other notorious groups that wish to inflict cyber terrorism to make some political point about cybersecurity.
The growing threat from hacking is somewhat inevitable given the way our power systems are changing and with the advent of the Internet of things.
The problem here is the vast amount of infrastructure needed to support such a setup. Any smart electrical grid needs a parallel telecommunications network to collect and harness the volumes of data it will generate, and that makes every connected thermostat or smart refrigerator a potential entry point for cyber intruders.
Another interesting thing is that when the New York Times opted to inform U.S. Citizens of the cyber attacks being carried out against Russia, President Trump reacted angrily and claimed that the paper had committed treason.
By reacting this way, it certainly was an admission of the attacks, which puts us in the crosshairs of a counter attack.
Two administration officials told the Times they believed President Donald Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the US computer code being implanted inside the Russian grid.
Pentagon and intelligence officials describe to the Times “broad hesitation” to tell Trump about the details of the operations against Russia. They tell the Times there was concern over how Trump would react and the possibility that Trump might reverse the operations or discuss it with foreign officials.
Trump said in a string of tweets Saturday evening that the Times report was “NOT TRUE,” calling the Times’ reporting “a virtual act of Treason” and the news media the “enemy of the people.”
Trump Tweeted: “Do you believe that the Failing New York Times just did a story stating that the United States is substantially increasing Cyber Attacks on Russia. This is a virtual act of Treason by a once great paper so desperate for a story, any story, even if bad for our Country.”
In my opinion, there is nothing more telling than that Tweet.
Again it is wise to ask the question if Americans are prepared for a massive blackout or even an internet blackout that keeps you from doing business or providing food for your home or fuel for your car.
How about heating and air conditioning for your home?
About 588 million smart meters will be installed worldwide by 2022, according to a report last year by GlobalData UK Ltd., a consultancy. Once you include other connected devices and grid operators’ own control systems, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Stuxnet, the worm that crippled Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities in 2010, appears to have been initially spread via an infected USB drive smuggled into one of the plants and plugged into a computer.
Faced with that ever-growing and diversifying list of weak spots, industrial companies are only slowly waking up to the scale of the risk. Overall, about a third of businesses surveyed by Kaspersky Labs Ltd. had suffered at least one cybersecurity incident during 2018, but less than a quarter are compliant with regulations and guidance on preventing intrusions.
Malicious hacks of electrical grids are far more likely to emerge from sophisticated state actors, who are better at covering their tracks and lying low for years until launching an attack.
Hacking of an internet link or what they call now the interlink could take out phone lines and credit card databases.
Our lives are dependent on such utility systems operating in the background, cleanly and without incident. The outage in South America is a reminder of our vulnerability in a more uncertain world.
There have been many times on my radio program where I have warned that our over-dependence on technology may be the very thing that can put us at a disadvantage. However, there are times when I speak about this subject, I get told that what I am doing is putting out pure hyperbole and that much of what I say regarding the failure of technology is nothing more than a headline grabber for ratings.
Well, the secret is out – I guess I am here to get you to listen to my show and so yes ratings do help. It is true I need to find a grabbing headline or story that gets you to think about what is going on outside of the political claptrap that somehow works to frame the network narrative.
But it is not exaggeration or overstatement to inform you that we are certainly over-dependent on technology and that the power grid will have to be updated with all of the new gadgets that we plug into the walls.
According to statistics provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Continental U.S. power transmission grid consists of about 300,000 kilometers of lines operated by approximately 500 companies.
Here in the United States, we do not have a single power grid, there are actually three power grids operating in the 48 contiguous states. The first one is the Eastern Interconnected System for states east of the Rocky Mountains. The second one is the Western Interconnected System, from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountain States.
The third one is the Texas Interconnected System. The systems, as a rule, operate independently of each other.
If one grid fails this does not mean the others necessarily will, but there is the domino effect because one of the three grids would try to meet the greater demand, because of the failure of one. This may result in a failure of the grids attempting to meet the demand.
The entire system is administered under mandatory procedures set up by the electric power industry’s new electricity reliability organization (the North American Electric Reliability Corporation). The corporation has oversight provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. Department of Energy).
The system is now called an interlinked system, which includes over 3,200 electric distribution utilities with 10,000 plus generating units and there are tens of thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines that supply power to millions of customers.
There is uncertainty in Federal regulatory procedures that address who may be responsible for paying for new transmission lines. This is one of the bigger problems with the power grid. There is uncertainty about the private sector’s ability to raise money to build them. In other words, every town, city, and community has to pitch in and help pay for upgrades, and new lines and it seems that every city and town has better things to do with their money because most are financially strapped. The power grid is old, and it has not been maintained properly because there are constant squabbles over who pays the bill for it all. Once politicians get involved, things tend to go off the rails.
In March of 2014 a study, not released was cited by the Wall Street Journal. The source of the study was the federal government and is believed to be in response to a sniper attack, a coordinated sniper attack at a power station in California. Some experts believe the attack was a “probe” of the system to find vulnerabilities and see what the response would be.
The study says that a blackout is likely to last a year or longer. The unreleased study goes on to say that coordinated attacks on the three grids as described earlier would disrupt power to nine of the nation’s 55,000 electrical substations. This according to the study would cause a nationwide blackout.
Obviously, any number of things could shut down the entire nation. How likely are they to happen, however? What is likely however is a series of attacks, and thus failures that will ripple through all three of the grids causing an entire shutdown eventually?
If you realized something has happened to the grid in Texas, for example, and you live on the East Coast you would realize your grid could or would fail ultimately.
Take a moment and contemplate the cash register shutdown at Target or the mass blackout in Argentina and Uruguay. Then you can imagine how the grid in the United States can fail and the domino effect would leave us all helpless.
It is not hyperbole to state that if all three grids fail that the lights would be out for an extended period, years perhaps. The grid for all practical purposes is not protected, regulated properly nor is it maintained properly. All this along with hackers, rogue nations, and terrorists all add up to a grid failure of all three at some point in your life, a failure that could last for years.
In today’s modern society, we’ve come to rely almost implicitly on having a dependable source of power. When power fails, it causes utter and complete chaos for those not fortunate enough to have had the foresight to prepare.
Of all the threats your disaster plan should consider, power grid failure is one of the more realistic and among the most likely to occur. When a power grid fails, a substantial geographic area can be without power for hours, days, or sometimes longer.
The best thing you can have during a power grid failure is a positive attitude. Make sure to do whatever you can to encourage hopefulness and keep spirits high.
In addition to the right attitude, I recommend doing the following to properly prepare yourself and your family:
Create a storage space that can be easily accessed in the dark.
Stockpile at least two week’s worth of supplies — this, of course, includes non-perishable food. We offer two weeks of storable food by going to http://www.preparewithgroundzero.com.
Design a plan for preparing food, sanitation, living/sleeping quarters, entertainment (especially for children), and rationing for fuel and power sources.
Store jugs of water in the fridge now to be used during an outage to keep food from spoiling; however, once the water melts, it should be used for cleaning or flushing, not drinking.
Store a flashlight or lantern by every bed.
Also, you should consider having a radio with extra batteries in your home or a radio that you can crank up for self-sufficient power — these are available at https://www.ccrane.com/
For drinking water, the general rule is that you should have 1-2 gallons per day available for each member of your household. A two-week supply of water for a family of four would mean having 56-112 gallons on hand. If you have pets, consider their needs as well; a rule of thumb is 1 ounce of water per pound of pet per day, so a 20 lbs dog would need 20 ounces a day.
You can further ensure access to clean drinking water by having a water filtration method available such as the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter or water purification packets. This will allow you to draw on water from unclean sources.
When stockpiling food for your family, you’ll want to plan for three meals per day, plus some snack foods for each member of your household. Don’t forget pets – include a two-week supply of food for them as well.
Canned goods are always preferable, ready to eat meals are also a great idea. You can heat foods by placing sterno under a coffee can.
The can acts as a hot plate.
Camp stoves are also appropriate ways of heating food but must be used outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
If necessary you can dig a fire pit fire pit, or use a gas or charcoal grill.
You may also want to invest in a home generator – there are gas powered and solar generators and there are also generators/ batteries that can be charged and used when the power goes out.
Also, make sure you have some health maintenance medications on hand and a first aid kit.
As a power outage drags on, people will become increasingly desperate and the need to protect yourself and your family from those who aren’t so well prepared may arise. While firearms are always a popular choice, there are other options as well. Consider reinforcing the entranceways to your home and stocking weapons such as pepper spray or even a stun gun.
Any additional items you pack need to be based on your family’s particular needs. Every household is unique, so make sure to pack items because they are essential to your family.
If you have children, ensuring entertainment options are available is critical. Make sure to have items such as games, books, cards and crafts readily available.
As our reliance on electrical devices and appliances grows, the need to have a solid plan prepared in case of power grid failure becomes ever more pressing.
Now that we are seeing grids failing and data systems shutting down, this event may be one of the more likely disaster scenarios, it is by no means any less calamitous than other scenarios but it is best to be prepared for anything and avoid being a victim of the blackout threat matrix.