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When thoughts of the shit hitting the fan begin to hit *really close to home

This blog post was inspired by my home town's newspaper, the Winchester Star, that ran an article July 22nd entitled "Local officials plan for hypothetical massive power outage." See below.

The article begins with: "What would happen if power went out in Winchester and Frederick County for two years?" and then goes on to explain that some local officials--a group of 15-18 representatives made up of local law enforcement, fire/rescue, emergency management, communications and information technology departments, and private sector citizens who work in manufacturing, distribution, agriculture, and electrical utilities--who are now referring to themselves as the 'Joint Committee on Long-Term Electrical Power Outages' have been tasked by the U.S. Army War College (how quaint) to come up with all possible scenarios and create contingency plans for helping people survive such an ordeal.

Ok. That piqued my interest. Because that is one hell of a major undertaking. Even for a relatively less-than-urban population such as ours, it's damn near gargantuan in scope. But I'm ready to hear these fellas out. They gotta know something, right?

"We're trying to brainstorm every possible scenario and come up with ideas so we're ready for whatever," Winchester Communications Manager Amy Simmons said.

Sorry. I LOL'd at that. There' way, Amy. I'm sorry, but there isn't. You can be 'ready for whatever' by preparing for the worst but even if you do, there's no way you'll know what the worst will be because the worst is guaranteed to be unprecedented. You should do a little more reading. But, I digress.

The Army War College is apparently doing this very thing for DOD installations nationwide and as a part of this project they supposedly selected my home town as a guinea pig for what they refer to as a "community strategy to be shared with other localities across the country." The scenario presented is an act of cyberterrorism that has shut down the power grid east of the Mississippi from Canada to the Gulf. There will be no electricity in the eastern United States for two years.

Now, I'm not going to pick apart this whole article, but I will address some of the finer points that are mentioned and address some of those quoted within the article--some whom I believe say things that are logical and sensible and other things that are completely ridiculous. My biggest beef with this is that for some reason, all of a sudden everyone seems to be just jumping on the f'n SHTF bandwagon; but more on that later.

The committee is currently meeting twice a month as a six-person panel. The reason? The scope of work and the size of the panel made it too difficult to get everyone scheduled. So, currently in attendance we have:

  • Winchester Emergency Management Coordinator Lynn Miller

  • Winchester Communications Manager Amy Simmons

  • Winchester Emergency Management Technician Jason Pagan

  • Frederick County Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Chester Lauck

  • Frederick County Public Information Officer Karen Vacchio, and

  • private-sector rep Bryan Laird of cybersecurity firm MBL Technologies of Arlington, VA.

Almost reads like one of the post-EMP meetings in One Second After, except no police chief, no mayor, and no hero professor.

Once a framework is laid out, they will resume the larger meetings once a month and work on these so-called contingency plans. Now, the one thing they do admit is that government services won't be able to fix everything, and I personally acknowledge that and thank them for their candor. But they follow up that statement by saying that they wish to "take away some of the scariness." They want to be as prepared as possible to offer support and services during "tumultuous" times.

I got news for you: you can't accomplish that now--during normal, peaceful, orderly times.

"It may seem like an impossible situation, but if we never talk about it, we have no chance for survival," Simmons said. "Starting the dialogue and crafting any level of plan gets us one step closer to helping our community when they needs us most." She goes on to say, "Even though it's going to be horrible, how can we help at least a little bit? How can we make it easier for people to survive?"

Mrs. Simmons needs to be visited by the harsh realities of a post-apocalyptic catastrophe. Which community is she talking about? Winchester is a three day walk from one of the most populated areas in the country. Sweetheart, if the east coast loses power, our community needing help is going to be the least of our worries, I assure you. Start thinking of how many people will exodus the metropolitan area (than can in no way possible sustain their numbers) and head westward to the land of plenty.

The article continues on and points out how vulnerable our power grid is, but doesn't point out that it's been like this for about...oh, say three or four decades. It mentions that it is susceptible to glitches and attacks by hackers, EMPs, conventional weapons, natural disasters, and more. No shit.

And I love this...I always love when major news outlets post this type of information for all to see. The article mentions this quote from the WSJ's Rebecca Smith, "...the U.S. could suffer a coast-to-coast black -out if saboteurs knocked out just nine of the country's 55,000 electric-transmissions substations on a scorching summer day."

Like the one we're having now. And yesterday. And the day before. We've all known this for years. And nothing has ever been done about it.

A memo by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff concurs that in such a scenario, "the entire United States would be down for 18 months, probably longer."

Then the article hits home and starts pointing the minor details of the collapse that will follow a blackout; just like most post-apoc books I've read; and written.

Cellphones won't work anymore; and you won't be able to charge them. No communication, no internet. Refrigerated foods will spoil. Traditional gas and water pumps won't work. Medical equipment will stop running. Electronic commerce halts. And, according to Mr. Miller, "People will become desperate--some very quickly. You're going to have people who take advantage of the innocent, and you're also going to have people who protect what they have. Our society as we know it will change very quickly."

Ok. Unlike Mrs. Simmons, Mr. Miller might have read a few post-apoc books.

As the article moves forward though, it seems Mr. Miller wants to first concentrate on networking and setting up a communication protocol, which I can't completely disagree with. He wants to push info out about what is being done as far as recovery efforts (yeah right) and where people can go for meds, food, and things they need to sustain life. But the thing is, especially initially, the power is going to be off, and people are going to wonder why, and every car, truck and gasoline powered vehicle is going to be on the road because NO ONE wants to be home anymore when the power is out. I have a family member who can't stand to be home if the power is out for more than an hour. Most of those cars that hit the road won't have a full tank of gas. And when that gas runs out, they're going to be stranded. And no one is going to help them. There's some desperation starting right there. Gas pumps won't work either. So how's that going to play out? Just a thought... Maybe we should prioritize public safety instead, and lock this mother down. Let's talk about short-term first, shall we? How are we going to keep the outsiders at bay?

The rest of the article reads like a typical blackout book, which is not surprising, even though it misses some important points. It talks of "runs on grocery stores" (looting) and "depleted inventories" and "concerns for employee safety" (riots).

Home generators would run until they couldn't. It mentions that refueling would be difficult; but doesn't say that in reality, it would be impossible because the price of gas would skyrocket and it would soon disappear not long after. It would be next to impossible to pump out of the ground and anyone with the capability would monopolize it, or die trying. Public safety and emergency management would most like put it on lock down anyway, and that in itself would cause people to become particularly pissed off.

He mentions that the timing of the power outage would greatly affect the outcome, which I tend to agree. In the heat of summer it would be uncomfortable and you'd see people with respiratory ailments or heart problems have difficulty surviving. In the winter, it would be a whole other scenario. Not many people know how to heat their homes anymore without some form of electricity leading the way. Even a gas furnace needs electricity to run the blower motor.

Mr. Miller points out that as the 'weeks pass' that the community's well-being would be contingent solely on the welfare of transportation systems. If shipments of fuel, food, water, and medicine kept coming, we would 'endure'. However, if the network were down due to fuel shortages, supply interruptions, etc, the scenario would be much more 'grim'.

Ok, I'm sorry. If the entire US east of the Mississippi was without power, the last place on earth anyone would give a flying flip about would be Winchester and Frederick County, Virginia. Forget supplies. Forget transportation, fuel, food, medicine--forget everything. We're not getting it. Without electricity, everything gets crazy in hours, and everything stops in days. Stop kidding yourself, Mr. Miller. I get it. You're trying to paint a pretty picture for the article. And, we'll be desperate because Shop 'n Save is out of avocados and ginger beer. But there are 27,284 people in Winchester, 83,200 people in Frederick county, and 8.3 million in the entire state of Virginia--all of whom are dealing with the same exact issues as the other 170 million people east of the Mississippi. How else can I say this? It will be desperation on a mass scale, and it will start with the people who are 100% dependent on the system. Once the system fails them, they will lose their minds. And after that happens, anarchy, chaos...pretty much the worst parts of the Bible all rolled into one. We should stop with the downplaying now.

Now, let's ask ourselves some questions: How many members of law enforcement are in Winchester? What's the ratio of law enforcement members to the general population of our area? How long will it be before the local government is overrun? Do you still intend to "help out just a little bit?" Shall we continue to ponder the hard questions?

Mr. Miller may answer with, "We'll just call in the National Guard for assistance."

To which I'd respond with, "You mean the ones dealing with the millions of other people losing their minds right now? Or the ones who've already said to hell with this and went home to their families?"

The rest of the article is both semi-realistic and completely unrealistic. In fact, it's inspired me to contact the group and investigate whether or not I can liaise with them at some point from a research point of view. At the very least, it could help promote the post-apoc genre. :)

Here's what I sent:

Mrs. Simmons, While I don't normally read the Winchester Star, the article was forwarded to me by my mother yesterday concerning "Local officials plan for long-term massive power outage." And, while I'm not what would be considered a professional or an expert in the field of power outages or emergency management, my mother sent the article to me predicated on my experiences--as a firm believer in self-sufficiency, (a 'prepper', as many are now referred), a ham radio operator and former emergency and severe weather communications coordinator, and as an author. In the past seven months, I've self-published two books on Amazon. My first book, What's Left of My World, became a post-apocalyptic science fiction best-seller in its first thirty days on the market--something I'm very proud of. While I won't waste your time giving you a full synopsis, the story takes place a year after an electromagnetic pulse takes down the power grid (and as well, every electronic device) on the east side of the Mississippi, strangely enough. I did my share of research before and while writing this book, and I just released its sequel last week, and so far things are going very well. Regardless, I've learned a wealth of information over the years about this sort of thing; both in researching "grid down" scenarios and in networking with other authors who write about similar scenarios. My reasoning for sending you this message is in part out of morbid curiosity, and as well, partially wanting to explore the possibility of offering another viewpoint. I would love a chance to sit in on or in some way, shape, or form be a part of one or more of these meetings in the future; even if simply from a research point of view. I'm certain the information would be invaluable. Obviously, I won't take offense if my request is declined, but I had to ask. The topic is one that I'm very well-versed in. And while I believe a cyber attack is definitely a plausible threat, it's most definitely not the worst-case scenario. It's prudent to plan for the latter. I await your response. Sincerely, Chad "C.A." Rudolph

Here's what I received in response:

Hi Mr. Rudolph. Thank you for your email and your interest in our long-term power outage planning project. I will take your inquiry to the committee and discuss it further. There may be a time in the near future where we invite you and others to be a part of the effort. Kindest regards, Amy Simmons

Well, so much for that. I know when I'm being blown off. And that's okay. It's probably for the best for both of our worlds. The ruling class can continue to rule and we can continue to prepare for what we know will eventually come. I think her response speaks volumes; to exactly how government types treat anyone with any knowledge who isn't "one of them."

The bottom line is, not a single person in that group has any idea what they're dealing with should an event of that magnitude strike. With that being said, the questions they're pondering aren't hard enough, and the situations they're assuming aren't grave enough. Something like that would be nothing short of hell on earth for a small town like ours, and the inner populous would be enough to cause it, much less what we'd have to endure from the outside. Winchester has several major thoroughfares running directly through it, including one of the busiest trucking interstates (I81) in the country. Without power, without fuel, without the technology we've all grown to love that's made life so much easier and comforting for us all, we would devolve.

The first and only thing Mrs. Simmons and Mr. Miller need to concern themselves with in an event like this is real estate. Because, they're going to need a metric shitton of it in order to find room to bury all of the bodies. Because if they don't we'll have another problem on our hands entirely--sanitation and widespread disease outbreaks...some of which haven't been seen in over a century.

Good luck.

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