What was once considered something that can only happen in a science fiction novel is now a very real possibility: the complete shutdown of our entire electrical grid.
Power grid failures are nothing new; in fact, during the winter of 1965 the United States experienced one of the worst power outages in its history. Over 30 million people from seven northeastern states and the province of Ontario in Canada were plunged into darkness when maintenance workers mistakenly tripped a safety relay. Almost forty years later, the same area was hit by the great Northeast blackout of 2003, where over 55 million people experienced power outages as a result of a software bug.
While most power outages are caused by storms or utility company mistakes, a growing number of these outages are being blamed on everything from our deteriorating electrical infrastructure to terrorists and hackers.
History of Major United States Power Outages
Over the last couple of decades, power outages have affected just about every American. These outages cause the average U.S. electrical utility customer to go without power for an estimated 214 minutes every year, costing the U.S. economy up to an estimated $55 billion annually.
The United States has a long history of major power outages that have disrupted daily life, caused significant economic losses, and even resulted in the loss of life. From the Northeast Blackout of 1965 to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, let’s take a closer look at some of the most significant power outages in U.S. history.
Northeast Blackout of 1965
On November 9, 1965, a faulty relay at a power plant in Ontario, Canada, led to a power surge that caused a chain reaction and resulted in a massive blackout that affected over 30 million people across the northeastern United States and parts of Canada. The outage lasted several hours and left many stranded without transportation or communication.
New York City Blackout of 1977
On July 13, 1977, a series of lightning strikes caused significant power outages in New York City, plunging the entire city into darkness. The blackout lasted for over 25 hours, caused over 9 million to lose power, and led to widespread looting and arson in several neighborhoods.
Utah Goes Dark in 1981
January 1981: Almost the entire state of Utah goes dark after prisoners on a work assignment accidentally knocked out transmission lines. 1.5 million people, in nearly all of Utah, as well as parts of southeastern Idaho and southwestern Wyoming lost power.
The Loma Prieta earthquake
October 1989: The Loma Prieta earthquake knocked out power to over 1.4 million people in Northern California due to damaged electrical substations.
The Western U.S. Energy Crisis of 2000 and 2001
2000-2001: The Western U.S. Energy Crisis of 2000 and 2001 hit California causing rolling blackouts that lasted for over 12 months.
The Midwest Grid Failure of 2003
On August 14, 2003, a software error in the alarm system of a power plant in Ohio caused a power outage that affected over 55 million people across the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and parts of Canada. The outage lasted several days in some areas and led to billions of dollars in economic losses.
Hurricane Katrina of 2005
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina landed on the Gulf Coast, causing widespread destruction and power outages in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The storm knocked out power to over one million people, leaving many without electricity, clean water, or access to basic necessities for weeks.
Superstorm Sandy of 2012
On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy and the Mid-Atlantic storms of 2012 struck the Northeastern United States, causing massive power outages that affected over eight million people across 17 states. The storm surge caused significant damage to power lines and substations, leaving many without electricity for weeks and causing over $50 billion in economic losses.
The list above is only a fraction of the power outages that have been experienced over the last couple of decades, and experts are warning about a frightening increase in non-disaster-related outages. Significant power outages have risen from 76 in 2007 to 307 in 2011.
Electrical Grid Threats
Our Aging Power Grid
The United States power grid is one of the most advanced in the world, but it is also aging and in need of desperate repair. The grid is made up of a patchwork of thousands of power plants, transformers, 400,000 miles of electric transmission lines, and distribution centers. Some of our grid still relies on lines and equipment dating back to the 1880s! Our aging infrastructure is a growing concern, and the danger it poses cannot be ignored.
The vast majority of our grid was built in the 1950s and 1960s; most of the equipment we rely on to keep our grid running is 50 to 60 years old. Unfortunately, most of that technology was designed to last 40 to 50 years, and there seems to be no real urgency to update these essential parts of our infrastructure.
The average age of large power transformers, which handle 90% of U.S. electricity flow, is more than 40 years. According to research by reinsurance provider Swiss Re, transformer malfunctions tend to escalate at about 40 years.
The Cyber/Terror Threat to the Grid
It’s really not a secret; our power grid is incredibly vulnerable to attacks from terrorists, hackers and rogue nations.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) has explicitly stated that the U.S., Energy Grid is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. The GAO notes that the grid distribution systems—which carry electricity from transmission systems to consumers—” have grown more vulnerable, partly because their operational technology increasingly allows remote access and connections to business networks. This could allow threat actors to access those systems and potentially disrupt operations.”
The GAO also notes that “nations and criminal groups pose the most significant cyber threats to U.S. critical infrastructure, according to the Director of National Intelligence’s 2022 Annual Threat Assessment. These threat actors are increasingly capable of attacking the grid.”
According to a report from the National Academy of Sciences, which was sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, our power grid is incredibly vulnerable to an attack which could cause widespread blackouts for weeks, maybe even months. This is incredibly worrisome, especially when you consider that most Americans says they wouldn’t be able to survive for longer than 2 weeks without power.
Cyber security expert Eugene Kaspersky warned about the very real threat of crippling attacks against key infrastructure throughout the world. He said that the threat of cyber terrorism had reached a point that could spell “the end of the world as we know it”.
Physical Attacks on the Grid and Utility Infrastructure
The potential for physical attacks on these systems has increased with the rise of technology and automation in utility infrastructure. The consequences of such attacks can range from minor disruptions to entire infrastructure collapse, causing widespread power outages and other hazards. In recent years, there have been several instances of physical attacks on utility infrastructure that have resulted in significant damage and loss of service.
Between 2011 and 2014, electric utilities in the United States reported 362 physical and cyberattacks that caused outages or other power disturbances to the U.S. Department of Energy. In a vast majority of those cases, no suspects were ever identified.
In 2013, we reported on a number of these attacks where people were targeting small power substations throughout the country. During one attack, an unknown group cut communication cables along a highway in San Jose, California before firing over 100 rounds of ammunition into large transformers at the substation. The FBI categorized the attack as a “Military-style” attack, but were never able to identify who was responsible.
That attack, revealed a major vulnerability in our power grid. According to a study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a relatively small coordinated attack in each of the nation’s three separate electric systems could cause the entire power grid to collapse.
Another incident occurred in December 2015, when gunmen attacked a power substation in California, destroying 17 transformers and causing a power outage affecting 52,000 people. The attack was carried out by firing more than 100 rounds of ammunition at the substation, causing significant damage to the facility. While no one was injured in the attack, the damage caused estimated losses of up to $15 million.
In another instance, in 2019, a drone was used to attack two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, causing significant damage and a temporary reduction in oil production. The drone, believed to have been launched by Yemeni rebels, reportedly bypassed the facilities’ security measures, highlighting the vulnerabilities in even the most secure utility infrastructure.
In January 2023, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bulletin warned that violent domestic extremists “have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020, identifying the electric grid as a particularly attractive target.”
The problem is that physical attacks on substations are easy because they are soft targets and there are more than 55,000 connected to the grid in the U.S.
The EMP Threat
An electromagnetic pulse (commonly referred to as an EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation caused by the detonation of a nuclear device above the earth surface. In my opinion, this is one of the worst case scenarios that we can think of. If a terrorist group or rogue nation were able to detonate one, it could shut down the entire country’s power grid for years, possibly permanently.
An EMP attack over the United States could literally put an end to the world as we know it in a matter of minutes. The damage caused by an EMP would be catastrophic. In a matter of minutes, everything our country depends on would come to a screeching halt.
From ATM’s and banking systems to key infrastructure like power, water and gas utilities, you would immediately see failures across the board. Our way of life would change in the blink of an eye, and it would take years to even begin to repair the damage.
In testimony late last year, Brandon Wales, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Infrastructure Threat and Risk Analysis Center, admitted that DHS is not adequately prepared to deal with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event or attack.
Wales testified that the United States power grid is even more vulnerable to attack than it was only a few years ago, and that DHS had no real plans to deal with the possibility of an attack.
The situation is pretty clear, and it’s pretty grim. We have severely neglected key infrastructure throughout the country. On top of that, our government is either ignoring, or is willfully negligent in protecting the county’s power grid from attack. This has left a large portion of our country, which has become incredibly dependent on these systems, extremely vulnerable if they fail.
Preparing for Power Grid Failures
Create an power outage emergency kit:
First, ensure you have an emergency kit ready to go now! It’s important to have a kit that you can easily access in case of an outage. The kit should include necessities such as flashlights, candles, batteries, a first-aid kit, a radio, a cellphone battery charger, and extra clothing or blankets. Remember to pack enough supplies for everyone in your home and ensure the kit is stored safely.
- Best Tactical Flashlights: Our Favorite Tactical Flashlights Reviewed
- Survival Lighters: The Top Weatherproof, Windproof, and Waterproof Lighters
- The Best Portable Survival Water Filters: Ensuring you have Safe Drinkable Water
- Prepper 101: Your Survival Guide to Getting Started
Have a backup power source:
Invest in a backup power source like a portable generator or solar panels. If you are investing in solar panels, then make sure they have enough capacity to power your essentials, such as your refrigerator or medical equipment.
Stock up on non-perishable foods:
During an outage, your fridge and freezer won’t be able to keep food cold, so be sure to stock up on non-perishable foods. Canned foods, granola bars, and crackers are all excellent options. It’s also important to keep a supply of safe drinking water on hand.
- Best Emergency Food: The Top Survival Food Supplies
- Long Term Water Storage: How to Store Emergency Water
- Survival Food – 56 Long-Term Survival Foods and Supplies at the Grocery Store
Secure your home:
Before an outage occurs, make sure your home is secure. For example, trim branches close to power lines, secure outdoor furniture, and close all windows and doors. If you have a garage, make sure it’s locked, so that you don’t have to worry about intruders.
- Home Security: Protecting Against Garage Door Break-Ins — A Favorite Entry-point for Thieves
- Home Safety: Security Tips for Staying Protected In Your Home
- Are you Welcoming a Home Invasion? Five ways you Could be Inviting a Burglar into your Home
- Prepper Guns: Why a Shotgun should be part of your Home Defense Arsenal
Keep up-to-date with weather reports, and stay informed of any updates from your local utility company.
- Check out our article on emergency communications during disasters.
- Communications Monitoring: The Importance of Radio Monitoring and Intelligence Gathering During Crisis Situations
- Shortwave Frequency List: International Shortwave Radio Frequencies to Monitor
Preparing for a power outage may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a crucial step in ensuring your safety and comfort. By creating an emergency kit, having a backup power source, stocking up on non-perishable foods, securing your home, and staying informed, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.
Spot on Sir!!! Time to get off the grid is now. Prepare to have at least 5 different ways to cook food without electric. Store firewood now. Buy a bicycle and extra tubes and tires. Buy 200 cigarette lighter, which also makes great barter items. And of course firearms and lots and lots of ammo. Rain barrels and various ways to purify water. Stock up on seeds for a garden, and plenty of hand tools, nails and Tarp. Your to go bag and INCH bag full of your supplies. Get your port a potty/lop ready with lot of toilet paper and shovels to bury the waste, or for your compost pile, raise chickens, and a few farm animals. Plenty of wild ferrel hogs out there for game. Stock up on a year supply of food, beans rice and canned foods. Practice your camping skills and have a good knife and a few axes. Get physically and mentally in shape and create your plan. Stay prepared and safe to survive and thrive.
Good suggestions… it is a matter of time before this will happen.
you stupid americans deserve to die in your stupidity
Dicky, who are u to say something like that! How many of Americans has a chance to go to other countries to live. Plus, it seems like the visitors of another country will try like heck, to live here in the United States. Look at the borders and immigrants coming in and getting free aide in taxes and housing and food. They think like “the land of plentiful and free” That’s not close either, we had to work anywhere and a lot of hours to have what we have. Thanks
Good suggestions…everyday, hackers try to hit our power grid. The F.B.I. is claiming at least four attempts daily. People are not even prepared for hurricane, let alone something like this. They will go knocking on their neighbors door. They will be turned down, much of the time. While they were buying season tickets., etc. some of us were putting up our gardens and storing food. People need to think ahead, but many, unfortunately, will not be willing to make the sacrifice. Many do not even own a manual can opener!!!
And where exactly does the money we dish out every month for utility services go?
My family runs a food distribution service, and I can guarantee you, a large part of the money we take in is designated for repair, maintainance, and replacement of the equipment it takes to do the job. So what are these bozos doing with the money they bring in??
Stealing it. , as if they will get a chance to use it later. , the jokes on them
Alliant Energy in NW IA has put up 100’s of wind turbines in the last few years…the power gets piped to Cali? and the $ has payed for condo’s in Mexico…..
all that, and increasing bills….good thing? I live in a small town with a full generator backup….7sec.restart time
7 Sec restart time. Yes if you have fuel for the generator. Natural gas is controlled by, yep you guessed it electric control valves. Propane and gasoline yep pumping stations and the trucks engines for delivery, control by computers and they most likely will not work either.
All public utilities in the US are regulated, that is, they are governed by commissions regarding what they can spend or make as profits. If the additional investment is made without accompanying increase in rates the return to shareholders is reduced. The reluctance is then threefold, the commission doesn’t want to authorize higher rates, the utility doesn’t want to impact shareholders and the shareholders are unwilling to give up income, many are pension and retirement plans that have to pay out returns to retirees. Call your commissioners and request they authorize higher rates to protect you from the EMP threat.
Good article, but it made EMPs out to be a lot less nasty than they really are. An EMP, like the article said, is caused my a “high air burst” nuke detonation. These occur anywhere from 3-18 miles above the ground (sorry i dont remember the kilometers off hand) and are basically like a giant electrical surge. The reason these are really nasty is theres only one thing to protect your electronics, and thats a faraday cage. Zero holes in the insulation is required because of the unpredictable path that the electrons take. As far as equipment they fry its pretty much everything save for like a few curcuits. Anything with a microchip is going to fry like its cool.
What about Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) associated with solar flares? These events occurred long before a nuclear related atmospheric EMP was even invented and cannot be preempted by any DHS or other alphabet-soup-gang plan against attack or terrorism.
Some people believe that any EMP damage can be easily repaired within reasonable time, while others, myself included, believe that the technology is there to repair quickly, but the structure to engage these repairs will also be impacted by the EMP making the task exponentially more difficult to accomplish.
As ardentwolf points out, the way to protect equipment is by utilizing a Faraday Cage, and I do not mean a simple wooden framed box with a grounded sheet of metallic screen that stops a portable radio from being heard once placed inside. The effects of an EMP will be much more devastating than blocking out some AM or FM frequency. We are talking about protecting from extremes seen in the 3-30 kHz range of the Very Low Frequency (VLF) to the 30-300GHz range of the Extremely High Frequency (EHF), and with solar emissions, perhaps even outside these known ranges.
There have been many discussions and thoughts around the effectiveness and implementation of Faraday Cages and I will not go into those kinds of details here. Short and simple… any reliable Faraday Cage of today’s standards is better than no protection at all.
There are many different things that can take down the network infrastructure of our sad sad grid. Earthquakes, floods, fires, tornados, emp, some drunk hitting the right power pole etc. the point is people in general should act proactively for their own security and safety and easy transition to life without power or minimal power. Faraday cages are nice for the rouge agency/govt. caused emp. However most people don’t know how to make one or want to invest huge sums of money to buy one. Relax dear ones theres a simple fix for this dilemma. Go to your local goodwill or thrift store and pick up the biggest microwave you can find, they are never more than a few bucks. Leave it unplugged in a closet or other convenient location and should the need arise most of your smaller gadgets and such will fit nicely inside and thus be protected. for a grid failure other than emp solar or wind setups are relatively inexpensive and coupled with the right sized inverter will run almost any household device with ease. Spare batteries can be purchased at any battery recycler for pennies on the dollar and added to your battery bank to increase voltage and/or storage capacity. basically thinking outside the box will take you quite a ways in any shtf scenario.
One problem with your theory, a faraday cage has to have power running through it and you cant make a perfect seal on the door
Perhaps you need to relearn basic magnetron theory before you poke holes in mine
A Faraday Cage should not be powered, but it should be properly grounded to an Earth Ground different from your house ground and not a water pipe.
The Microwave is a great way to start cheap, just make some minor modifications to the housing and get it properly grounded.
One of the biggest threats to the grid is the depleation of a skilled work force (read experience old geisers retiring) and the industries unwillingness to spend the money to train new operators in time to take their place. At least this was the case a few years ago when I was keeping up with it.
I forgot to mention that deregulation is right up there too. Grid operations is now focused on how to make money rather than reliability. Maintenance has become more reactionary and less peventitve/predict as a result.
Does anyone have any reference material on how to harden my PV Solar Power systems against HEMP? I have spoken with a very nice lady who knows about Carrington-type and her opinion is that IF I am mechanically disconnected from the grid at the time of the CME, I should be OK. The problem with HEMP is the sequence of pulse and the waveform patterns involved. The first pulse will pretty much fry my lightning arrestors. The last pulse (which can last several seconds) will finish the job.
A lot of information on HEMP has been locked away, remains classified…
Try searching on EMP vs HEMP and look at resources from ETS-Lindgren, EMP Engineering or other resources out there
Natural Gas is the BEST alternative energy source in the event of a National Power Grid Failure. Natural Gas does not stop when electricity does. I have my house ready for that….Non-electric Heating, Cooking, and Hot Water. All I need now is an NG powered electric generator. There is NO NEED FOR SURGE PROTECTION!!!! Tell that to the Obama Administration…..Drill baby Drill.
Just stumbled on your site. I am a 66 year old widow. Have prepped food/water but am so unprepared otherwise. My house is natural gas and I have a wood stove. What can I do in 3 weeks to get ready for grid test.? What is an NGO generator and where can I get one ? I like the old microwave idea, can I put batteries in it to keep them safe ? I sure need help and feel so vulnerable.
IS that true.. that NG keeps flowing even in the event of a grid shutdown?
Eventually the pressure will run out on NG. Also you need something to push all that NG heat around in your home( a fan and such) NG is a perfect for 2-3 power outage but after that we are all in the same boat.
Something everyone seems to forget is the damage the shutdown itself of the power grid through EMP would create. The total loss of the ability of the power plant to operate also means the nuclear plants would lose their ability to reinsert the nuclear fuel rods into their shut down positions. I.E. the rods would be exposed and continue heating up through the fission process without the ability to cool… China Syndrome, T.M.I., Chernobyl, Fucashima; whatever you want to use as the example, the meltdown would release much hazardous radioactivity into the upper atmosphere as well as the ground water table.
A full scale EMP attack in several regional areas at once would create such a total catastrophe no area of this country would be safe from its effects.
ITS MARCH 28 2017 I PUT IN YAHOO SEARCH POWER GRID PROTECTION FRIST THING THAT CAME UP WAS DATED 2014 UN F BELIEVABLE. AMERICA FOR THE PEOPLE ? THE MILITARY IS PROTECTED AND NO DOUBT ALL POLITICAL LEADERS HAVE SECURE BUNKERS WITH 10 YEARS FOOD AND WATER. ITS MORE IMPORTANT TO BE THE FIRST TO GO TO MARS THAN IT IS TO SECURE OUR POWER GRID AND PROTECT US FROM IN COMMING ASTROIDS ETC. LOOKS LIKE GOVERNMENT LIVES ALL OF US DIE WITHIN 2 MONTHS. WHEN IT HAPPENS I HOPE ALL OUR DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS WHO WERE HIGHLY PAID TO RUN OUR COUNRTY BROUGHT US TO 30 + TRILLION IN DEBT WHILE THEY ARE IN THERE BUNKERS AND WE ARE DIEING THAT ONE SAND PEBLE ON THE WHOLE GULF OF MEXICO COAST AS TO THE COST THAT COULD HAVE PROTECTED US ALL. GOOD LUCK TO EVERYBODY
O.K. 2019…..totally depressed after reading all of these. Maybe there is nothing we can do. I am 73 and have been prepping since before the 2000 scare, just because I like to insure my food, water, heat, etc. But when it gets right down to it, maybe there is nothing we can do. Another major fear, even with firearms, and knowledge, you have to sleep sometime. The moral compass of today’s society is pointing south…. These are all very well thought through comments, by the way…
Regarding the two comments by”Abigayle”,(one towards the middle and one at the end, both August of 2019)
I like her style!!!