Category Archives: professional papers

Big threats to electric power grid covered in several books and academic papers, not much in movies yet

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A number of books and professional papers in the past few years have discussed the dangerous and possibly existential threat to the electric power grid for North America and most of the developed world, from both natural and hostile sources. I would expect major films (not just typical overdone “disaster movies”) to explore this possibility in the future.

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Civilization, and the whole concept of the rule of law, has evolved with technology and now could not function if electricity to a large percentage of the country or to a major area were lost for many weeks, months or years.  But this is indeed possible.

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Concern about this idea has risen in recent weeks, since the Wall Street Journal drew attention to a physical rifle attack on the Metcalf substation in the Silicon Valley in California in April, 2013, which actually caused very little disruption to companies and homes in the area.

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There are two major fiction works that present the grid vulnerability.  One of these is “Gridlock”, by Byron L. Dorgan (former senator from North Dakota) and David Hagberg, from Forge.  Dorgan envisions a major conspiracy theory, involving Russian and Middle Eastern enemies, who (with the help of a psychopathic young hacker in the Netherlands) can take out the grid with cyber attacks in stages, demanding ransom.  But the incident starts with shooting a power station, and then the electrocution of a repair person by manipulating the way the line is energized by a computer virus. The link is here  and the visitor can follow the labels to other books that take up related issues.

The older fiction is “One Second After”, by William Forstchen (2009, from Doberty) with a foreword by Newt Gingrich and an afterword by Bill Sanders.  The novel follows one family in the North Carolina Blue Ridge when, one April afternoon, the lights go out suddenly for the whole country, as a result of three simultaneous electromagnetic pulse (EMP) explosions from nuclear weapons launched from a commercial ship in the Gulf of Mexico to high altitude.  I wondered, would Norad find and would the Air Force intercept these missiles?    Civilization in rural areas returns to the 19h Century, but almost everyone in large cities perishes within a year.

The major non-fiction book is “A Nation Forsaken: The Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe” by F. Michael Maloof. From WND Books.

Maloof covers all the major possibilities, including EMP from missiles, but also explains how a coordinated EMP attack could occur on the ground from smaller, non-nuclear “magnetic flux compression generators”, a possibility pointed out in a Popular Science article in 2001, originating with New Scientist, link here.

Maloof also covers the possibility of a solar flare, followed by coronal mass ejections that could arrive at Earth two or three days later.

The National Academy of Sciences has published two important works, “Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System”, in 2012, as well as “Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts”.

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory has published “Geogmagnetic Storms and their Impact on the U.S. Power Grid”.

On October 27, 2013, National Geographic Channel aired the docudrama “American Blackout” about how the US would recover in ten days from a total cyber attack on the power grid.

On Feb. 21, 2010, CNN aired a similar film, “Cyber Shockwave,” enacting a cyber crisis with officials discussing what they would do in a manner similar to war games that the media used to stage for nuclear crises in the past (even the Cuban Missile Crisis).

There have been a few B-moves on the solar flare issue, like “Air Collision“,  “Solar Strike”, “Solar Crisis” and “Solar Attack” that aren’t very effective or credible.

But “Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm” from the Discovery Channel is pretty scary.

I have heard rumors that Warner Brothers has looked at “One Second After”, and Dorgan probably has the connections to get “Gridlock” considered by studio agents.

(Initial publication: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at about 11:45 AM EST).