Oct 21

When The Lights Go Out

There’s been lots of chatter lately about a long term grid down crisis which could hit the US.  This chatter hasn’t been relegated exclusively to alternative news sites, it’s obvious the topic has gotten some traction when a former DHS Secretary speaks about the US’s vulnerability.  This coupled with a massive Grid Down Exercise is being planned in November means you no longer need a tin foil hat to discuss this topic seriously.  National Geographic has even filmed a movie based on the premise of a grid down scenario which is scheduled to air on October 27, 2013.

American Blackout imagines the story of a national power failure in the United States caused by a cyberattack — told in real time, over 10 days, by those who kept filming on cameras and phones. You’ll learn what it means to be absolutely powerless. Gritty, visceral and totally immersive, see what it might take to survive from day one, and who would be left standing when the lights come back on.

Most recently a report was issued by two researchers which detail how, with somewhat limited expertise, they could shut down the power grid.

“We haven’t found anything we haven’t broken yet,” Mr. Crain said in an interview. At minimum, the two discovered that they could freeze, or crash, the software that monitors a substation, thereby blinding control center operators from the power grid. Mr. Crain likened that capability to “a bank robber being in a bank vault with the camera frozen.”

In the case of one vendor, Mr. Crain found that he could actually infiltrate a power station’s control center from afar. An attacker could use that capability to insert malware to take over the system, and like Stuxnet, the computer worm that took out 20 percent of Iran’s centrifuges, inflict actual physical harm.

“This is low-hanging fruit,” said Mr. Crain. “It doesn’t require some kind of hacker mastermind to understand the protocol and do this.”

The Reality of the Situation

We must be as prepared as we can for a long term grid down scenario, and by that I mean anywhere from 1 to 6 months.  The systems which deliver our power have been proven to be vulnerable and officials at the highest levels of government have confirmed that the threat is real.  While the intensity and scope of such an attack remains unknown one can only assume that it will be large scale and place millions of people in complete darkness for quite some time.  In short, a one way ticket back to the stone age with the click of a mouse.


I freely admit that I am not completely prepared for a long term grid down scenario, who truly is?  Even the most well stocked prepper living on a 50 acre farm somewhere in the Redoubt would be touched by such an event, although the impact would be far less I’m sure.  Still yet what happens if one requires medical attention or even prescription medication?   Surgery isn’t something you can DIY, and while medicinal herbs do have value I’ve yet to see anything pack the punch that Percocet does when it comes to dealing with intense pain.

Other Considerations

So what truly can be done about this?  The answer is two fold and involves stockpiling while preparing to live without climate control.  Having enough food and water on hand to live for an extended period of time without the everyday comforts of life should be an obvious necessity, followed by having a plan to generate more food in an extended outage (gardens, raising animals for meat et al).

One problem many preppers overlook is the lack of climate control during a grid down scenario and the massive effect it will have on society.  How many suburban homes or condos have a wood burning fireplace?  What happens when the pipes freeze (no running water) and the temps drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit inside the home? What about when next summer hits and the temps soar, can you imagine living in a modern home (which was not built to flow air properly) without air conditioning?  I had a small taste of this earlier this year when my A/C went out, it was not pretty.

Do What You Can

If the lights go out it’s going to be bad, and by that I mean very, very bad.  Our society will most certainly tear itself apart in a matter of weeks.  The drive for food will force many law abiding citizens to simply “do whatever it takes” to feed their families.  As preppers we must be prepared do our best to weather the storm, not taking unnecessary risks and doing what we can with the preps we were fortunate enough to stockpile.  It won’t be easy and it certainly will not play out as expected.  In my opinion the most important asset during a time like this would be people, the human element so to speak.  A tight knit family and community will be able to lean on each other when times get tough, making a lights out scenario easier to manage versus going it alone.

The Bottom Line

In my opinion it’s only a matter of time until we are hit with some sort of event which disables our power grid.  While the size, scope and fallout of such an event remain unseen you don’t have to have a PhD to understand how devastating it would be to life as we know it.  One must keep prepping and planning, and be prepared to recognize the warning signs once they occur.  Being decisive and taking immediate action once the lights go out will greatly increase chances of survival, this versus sitting around and waiting for someone to do something.


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    • The Maj on October 21, 2013 at 11:25 AM
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    If any TEOTWAWKI event happens, the grid will go down as a byproduct of the event. It may remain up longer in some than in others, but eventually the grid will fail in every single scenario. The difference always becomes how long the grid will stay down post event.

    If you are prepping and not considering the baseline requirements of a grid down scenario, there are some serious holes in your plans and preps that need to be addressed.

    I also do not care how many drills the government runs, they are not going to solve the problem. For one the problem is simply “too big”, so they will set the parameters of the exercise in their typical “likely” and “least likely” manner which allows them to control the flow of the exercise so that it looks as if it was successful (so they can pat themselves on the back when it is all done and declare it a “win”). Second, the communication issues between the power companies and government are VAST and in typical government fashion, the government will want the power companies to adapt to them, rather than adapting to the power companies, so communication will fail miserably.

    Third, these big exercises are always run remotely and on computers, which would not be available in a true grid down scenario. So, even if some government official is in one of the hardened facilities with power and comms, no one inside the affected area will have comms or at least their comms will be severely diminished. There really is no way to simulate this in real time and it will be overlooked.

    I could go on and on but I believe everyone gets the point.

    I am interested in seeing the NGC movie. I am always entertained in these “grid down” movies when the power is out, yet I can still see the actor’s face and facial features. On a full moon, cloudless night maybe, but a moonless night, it is pitch black – dark like most have never seen.

      • PJ on October 21, 2013 at 12:20 PM
      • Reply


      Great points concerning the exercise, I’m sure the parameters will be set based on capabilities thus ensuring results are optimal. I think one huge hole in any plan would be mustering any amount of police/fire/EMS or even the Nat’l Guard. In order to mobilize forces you first have to let them know where to go, how do you even make first contact? Phones are down, internet is down, and everyone is at home with their family trying to figure out their own situation. It would be tough sledding from day 1.

  1. I realize my family is not going to tolerate for long a grid down situation in OK in the middle of daily 104 degree temperatures. Have been working on 12 volt photovoltaic alternatives. Have purchased table top 12 volt fans. Also I have converted a 120 volt window-type evaporative cooler (swamp cooler) to 12 volts. Put a 3 gallon pan on top of the cooler and connected it to the cooler via a float switch. Everyday I use the cooler I fill the pan full of water, this can be grey water, if potable water is scarce.

  2. Hey, a question on the gas lines. When the grid goes down how long will gas stay in the lines. Someone told me that they have generators that run on the fuel in the lines, so the pumping stations can stay in operation for months. . Is that true?
    I talk to our local sewage station. Water for the toilet will continue as long as they can find diesel fuel for the generator for the lift station. So expect maybe a week at the most in an serious catastrophic crisis.

      • The Maj on October 23, 2013 at 8:08 AM
      • Reply

      To an extent, some of your information concerning the gas lines and generators is true. However, those generators are in place for short term power disruption and not for a long term event. That said, I would not plan on having gas in the lines in the event of a grid down scenario for an extended period of time.

      Water will depend on the size of the system you are on and how well it is maintained. Most systems do have generators to pump water from the ground but do not have generators for their treatment systems. So, best case in a grid down scenario, you will have water for a short period but it might need to be treated by you before consuming it. Eventually, it will stop as well.

    • Bilge Pump McCoy on July 10, 2016 at 12:34 PM
    • Reply

    I live in Alaska and and my #1 concern for a grid down scenario is home heating. I won’t have any problem keeping the house warm from April – September, but in the colder months I will have to seal off half of my house and rely on a small wood stove to heat the rest. A few years ago my furnace died and I went without a furnace for two weeks in the middle of a very cold December. We celebrated when the new furnace was finally installed. This was an eye opener. Its a lot of work to keep the fire stoked and the family comfortable and happy when its 10 degrees outside. I would hate to be forced to do this for 6 months (although at least I could if I had to).

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