We use electricity for almost every aspect of modern life. In our current state of unpreparedness, it is not a question of if, but WHEN, the grid collapses. When the U.S. grid collapses from a major incidence, there will be no food, water, sewage, gas, gasoline, medical services, or communications in large sections of the U.S. for years. If anyone in America doubts this, the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and other governmental and non-governmental organizations urge the American people to get the facts. Whatever you do, do not let the utilities industry decide for you.

Get the facts and then decide.

Overview of Vulnerabilities

America’s bulk electric distribution system is commonly referred to as the “electric grid” or “grid” and is a key critical infrastructure (i.e. essential system) that has made modern life possible. The nation’s 16 Critical Infrastructure Sectors include: Energy; Defense Industrial Base; Communications; Healthcare & Public Health; Emergency Services; Water & Wastewater Systems; Transportation Systems; Food & Agriculture; Information Technology; Financial Services; Nuclear Reactors, Materials & Waste; Chemical; Commercial Facilities; Critical Manufacturing; Dams; and Government Facilities. All of these infrastructures are highly dependent on electricity and technology to function. America’s electrical infrastructure and its 15 other critical infrastructures are vulnerable to various man-made and naturally occurring events.

Due to our modern-day dependence on electricity and the increasing delicacy of today’s electronics (i.e. microchips and microprocessors), our unhardened grid is woefully unprepared. Man-made threats to the electric grid include non-nuclear and nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP), kinetic (i.e. physical) attacks, and cyber-attacks. Natural threats include solar storms, severe weather, and other natural disaster events. Several of these threats to the grid have been continuing to increase in frequency and intensity in recent history. Of all the threats our nation faces, nuclear EMP can cause the widest and greatest damage to the electric grid. The U.S. also currently lacks spare parts and planning scenarios for grid down situations. Finally, the American people are unaware of the nation’s dire situation because they do not understand why previous grid failures will not reflect what the future holds if the U.S. electric grid continues in its current unhardened state.

Man-made Threats

Non-nuclear and Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse: Electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) is not science fiction and is currently part of our enemies’ documented war plans against America. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Boeing have developed the CHAMP system, a radio frequency device (RFD) which destroys electrical systems using non-nuclear EMP technology. The radius of impact of an RFD is relatively small but several of these devices used in a coordinated attack against multiple substations could be catastrophic. RFDs can be used as weapons and are readily available. They can be easily purchased on-line without licensing requirements or can be built from parts purchased from local electronics stores and instructions from the internet.

Many citizens believe a large, nuclear missile is necessary to inflict long-term (as much as 4-10 years) damage to our electric grid. Actually, as little as a couple of scud missiles with small nuclear devices launched from freighters in international waters could destroy large portions of the U.S. electric infrastructure. Detonation of nuclear devices creates EMP fields, and detonation at high altitudes amplifies the impact of the EMP effect, which can result in permanent damage to both delicate electronics and large high voltage transformers. The devices do not have to be highly sophisticated or accurate and can weigh as little as a couple of hundred pounds. Along the Gulf Coast, the U.S. currently does not have early warning systems or missile defense systems.

Kinetic Attacks: The electric grid is vulnerable to kinetic (i.e. physical) attacks, such as rifle fire or grenades. On April 16, 2013, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Metcalf Transmission Substation in San Jose, CA, was shot up by approximately a half dozen gunmen armed with AK-47s. It was a well-executed mission that nearly took out power to Silicon Valley. The attackers are still at large; they left no finger prints or DNA and wore masks. Besides the Metcalf Substation, other high voltage transformers around the country have been physically attacked, which is relatively easy to do since many substations are unguarded and surrounded by only chain-link fences with padlocked gates.

Notable quote: “Destroy nine interconnection (transformer) substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.” – Internal memo, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Cyber-attacks: Roughly two dozen cyber-attacks per day are directed against the U.S. power grid and/or critical infrastructures. The most threatening attacks, for example, would be attempts to destroy difficult to replace, unprotected high voltage transformers or to destroy critical infrastructure, such as cooling pumps at the 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 states across the nation (as of 5/30/17). With many cyber-attacks, it is difficult, or simply impossible, to ascertain the culprit. We do not know where or with whom they originated.

In January 2017, the Department of Energy (DoE) released the 2nd installment of Transforming the Nation’s Electricity System. The DoE concluded that “in the current environment, the U.S. grid faces imminent danger from cyber-attacks… (that) could also endanger the health and safety of millions of citizens.” The Department of Energy is referring to wide spread outages of long durations, potentially months or years. The number of attacks by adversaries against the U.S. electric grid and other critical infrastructures (e.g. control systems at nuclear power plants) continue to increase substantially.

Notable quote: “A massive and well-coordinated cyber-attack on the electric grid could devastate the economy and cause a large-scale loss of life.” – Dr. Richard Andres, US National War College.

Natural Threats

Geomagnetic Disturbances from Extreme Solar Weather: Even if this catastrophe is not caused by our nation’s enemies, the sun will eventually cause international grid loss if we remain unprotected. Solar storms happen regularly and can create geomagnetic disturbances (GMDs) in the Earth’s atmosphere. If powerful enough and Earth-facing, a solar storm can create a GMD that moves through the long electric transmission lines and destroys large high voltage transformers. The 1859 Carrington Event is the largest solar storm on record to hit Earth; solar flares of this magnitude are estimated to hit Earth every 100 to 150 years, and NASA estimates the likelihood of another at 12 percent per decade. NASA reports we missed that level of solar storm by 9 days in July 2012 and it would have “fried” unprotected electrical grids internationally. This 2012 event wasn’t even reported in the news until 2 years after the fact. (The news cannot be relied upon to report information that is accurate, timely or critical.)

There are a variety of scientific names for these regularly occurring natural events including Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), Geomagnetic Disturbances (GMDs), Magneto-Hydrodynamic (MHD) phenomena, Natural EMP and Solar Storms. In 1989, a power blackout, referred to as the Quebec-Hydro Electric Blackout, started in Canada and lasted up to 12 hours in some areas. The grid experienced cascading failures starting in Quebec which spread to six northeastern U.S. states in less than 2 minutes. The cause? A solar storm that was a fraction of the size of the largest solar storm on record, the 1859 Carrington Event. The Carrington Event was 100 times more powerful than the solar storm that hit Quebec in 1989. Severe Weather: Climate change and other severe weather events can also damage our electric grid. The power grid is also aging, with some components being as old as 100 years, and becoming more easily damaged by severe weather events.

Notable quote: “Power outages are expected to become more frequent as climate change increases the occurrence and intensity of hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and other extreme weather events.” – U.S. Global Change Research Program, National Climate Assessment Report.

Other Natural Disasters: Power grids and other critical infrastructures are threatened by natural disasters including earth quakes, wild fires, and in coastal regions, tsunamis. In March 2011, a tsunami in the Pacific Ocean engulfed coastal areas of Japan and other surrounding coastal regions. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant occurred due to both the main power and back-up power supplies failing. Five years later, some 100,000 people are still waiting to return to their homes in Fukushima.