I have been visiting the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. this past month, staying with relatives in Pennsylvania. I have temporarily been away from my rural home in Montana and living in urban-based neighborhoods. These areas have a lot more people living closer together than what I’m used to.
As the ProtectGrid blogger, I’m mindful of the modern electrical grid’s vulnerability to an EMP occurrence. While visiting family these past few weeks I’m extra-ordinarily aware of how city life could be impacted if a long term power outage should ever happen across the region.
Roughly 82% of the US population lives in urban areas and only 18% in rural areas. Most if not all people in the cities have lifestyles that make them totally dependent on retail supermarkets and grocery stores to feed themselves. I’m figuring my family I’m visiting here might have about 1 to 3 weeks, (at most) of canned goods and sundries we could eat as emergency rations should the need arise.
Without any bulk water storage on hand, I’m not sure how long water supplies would last. (Not long). No-one I know around here has a gravity-feed type water filter to treat surface water we could pull out of the local stream.
The US long ago adopted a “just-in-time” supply delivery system for virtually all goods stocked on the shelves of food stores. Not too long ago your average retail store probably carried a fairly large inventory that would last a week or even longer depending on the store, their choice of food items and the volume of local customers serviced. The just-in-time inventory system of today with few exceptions, operates with many stores having at best a 3 day supply of perishable and fresh foods normally “consumed” by Americans on a daily basis.
In a grid-down emergency I’m reminded that:
Every utility in the country is dependent on the power grid. Even those with emergency generators have only a week’s supply of fuel. Imagine everything that would be affected. No power to operate the pumps at gas stations; No trucks capable of delivering fuel to the gas stations because fuel depots are down; natural gas pipelines lose pressure needed to keep the NG flowing so residential heating shuts down; your local water treatment will stop, no pumps keeping the sewage flowing so soon drain lines start backing up into and out of any openings connected to the system; no treatment of city/municipal potable water so after a while, even if your tap water keeps flowing, you could not trust it to be safe to drink.
In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences looked at the possibility of a solar flare and its effects. A solar storm two-thirds the size of the Carrington Event (recorded circa 1859) could still knock out power for 130 million Americans. Water distribution would be affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on. If we were hit with another Carrington-sized storm it could take months to get parts of the grid back to operational. In the first year alone, it would take an economic toll of $2 trillion, about 20 times the cost of Hurricane Katrina. The worst effects of the flare would be felt in North America, where the highly-connected grid running near peak capacity could experience problems in systems having minimal tolerance for malfunction.
Rural VS Urban Conditioning of the Populace
Can’t happen here?
As a rural Montanan, I’m pretty down with what it takes to get through the winter on farm or ranch. For some of us out in the country, we could go off-grid fairly readily without too much trouble. It’s hard to imagine going without electricity for anything but a few days when you live in the city.
And that about sums up a lot of peoples’ attitudes when it comes to thinking about a major disaster like an EMP-catastrophe. Because only a few folks are really prepared for such a critical emergency, most people are unwilling to think over-much about a possible negative event of such massive proportions. Let’s call it “normalcy bias”. I’m referring to peoples’ tendency to armor themselves psychologically against dangers that they feel helpless to avoid or powerless to change.
The EMP phenomenon has enough complexity attached to it that many people feel powerless to prevent it. Because it receives little media attention in our daily lives, most of us are uneducated or even misinformed about the basics in preparedness required for dealing with a massive, long term power outage lasting more than a few days.
Rather than constantly remind oneself of a continued lack of planning and preparedness, rather than dealing with the frustration of not having the money to add another household expense of buying survival supplies to the budget, people quite regularly use various forms of risk aversion, avoidance and denial responses to cope with an otherwise depressing situation.
Rather than get depressed or feeling guilty, it’s easier to revert to a simple default of pleading ignorance or pawning off responsibility to the experts and authorities in society, rather than pony-up to the bar and take control of the situation pro-actively. Or is it more reasonable to expect that WE THE PEOPLE demand that those same authorities be more accountable to the public’s safety and security on this issue?
Warning: A nice, justifiable excuse ahead!
It just uses up too much mental energy to confront bad news or unpleasant facts continually. God knows we already have enough stress in our lives dealing with “normal” dysfunctional symptoms of crime, corruption and societal malaise. To maintain mental and emotional balance, it’s a routine defense mechanism to take on only so much pathos.
“The government will take care of things, no sense worrying about it too much”.
And accordingly, the urban population in complicity with the news services, while mesmerized by popular TV programs that captivate the public eye — the status quo, business-as-usual, mainstream viewers churn the palaver for another season.
What’s it going to take to get a community mobilized? How do we move through our current distractions and obsessions that refuse to admit to a plausible threat that could paralyze the megalopolis in a grid-down EMP scenario?
EMP is the one and only “safe” way for anyone to eliminate the US from the world scene and do so quickly and at a relatively low-tech level of sophistication–that we are not protected from.
City dwellers take heed.