Day: November 3, 2015

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

08:40 – Yesterday, Barbara put a reserve hold on Ted Koppel’s new book, Lights Out. There won’t be much if anything in the book that I don’t already know, but it’ll be interesting to see Koppel’s take on the issue.

Most of my readers are already aware that a long-term grid-down situation is the worst nightmare imaginable for any prepper. Being without utility power for an extended time would literally destroy our country. It would probably kill off 10% of our population within weeks, and perhaps 80%+ within a year. Call it 250 million dead, just in the US and Canada. Modern society simply cannot survive without electricity. That’s the point Koppel is making, along with the fact that there are many different threats that could cause such a disaster, from hackers taking down the computers that control our grids to a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) to an intentional electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

It’s difficult to estimate the probability of such events. The best probability estimates I’ve seen of a catastrophic CME are 1% to 1.2%. Per year. Those estimates come from NASA and various scientific journal papers. I don’t know enough about space weather to judge their validity, but they seem convincing.

An EMP attack is within the capabilities of various nations and groups who hate the US. All it would take is one small fission device detonated at very high altitude over the central US to cause incredible and long-lasting destruction to our power grids. North Korea has already demonstrated such a device, as has Pakistan. Iran probably isn’t far from having them, if it doesn’t already. Note that neither a fission warhead nor even just a fission bomb is necessary. All they need is a fission device. That’s because the device will detonate in space. That makes it a couple orders of magnitude easier to achieve. Designing a warhead to survive re-entry is the hard part. Any number of nations, including China, Iran, and North Korea, have missiles capable of boosting such a device to the required altitude. It could be done easily from a freighter outside US waters.

As to hackers, who knows? The fact that parts of our grid are controlled by Internet-connected PCs running Windows XP makes me think it’s just a matter of time. When one considers all the possible threats, it seems reasonable to me to assign a tentative probability of 10% per year to a catastrophic grid-down event. And that’s much too high to be acceptable.

The recovery time would depend on the cause of the event. A cyber attack would probably cause the least physical damage of the three, although there’s still the potential for significant physical damage to distribution. If we were lucky, we might see power start to be restored within weeks and a return to normal within months. A Carrington-class CME would cause more physical damage, although that could be limited to some extent because we could expect to have at least several hours’ to a day or so notice of the actual impact. Things could be taken off-line and protected against the flux. Whether or not that would happen would depend on the decision makers. They might well hesitate to cause a complete disruption of the power grid, even knowing what was about to occur. The EMP attack would cause incredible damage, because it would happen on essentially zero notice. There would not be time to take any protective actions. High-voltage transmission lines would be destroyed, along with the transformers and other gear required to control them. And those aren’t things you can just order from Amazon Prime. Most of the equipment is made outside the US, and even if the factories that make them were unaffected (a big if) the lead times on them run to months or even years.

On a lighter note, here’s another example of why I despair about modern eduction: Can you solve the 50 cent maths exam question that is dividing the internet?

Anyone who needs more than a fraction of a second to come up with the correct answer doesn’t understand basic geometry. Those 12-sided coins have interior angles of 30 degrees (360 degrees / 12 = 30 degrees). The angle in question is twice that, or 60 degrees. That should be obvious at a glance to anyone who’s passed basic geometry.

10:37 – A few minutes ago, as we were binning seed bags, our real-estate agent in Sparta called. The second-mortgage holder countered our $5,000 offer verbally with $7,000. We agreed, so at this point we’re waiting for the second-mortgage holder to sign the agreement. When that happens, things will start to move quickly. We’ll close on the house in a couple weeks.

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