How prepared is the nation for a major power grid failure?
Recent events have put the spotlight on the immediate effects of a major power grid failure that could conceivably impact the entire nation. The most noteworthy of these are the near-catastrophic event that occurred this past summer in northern India, and the sudden power outage that affected an enormous part of the eastern U.S.
Described in a New York Times article as the largest electrical blackout in history, the power failure in India disrupted the lives of an estimated 670 million people. In this instance three of the country's interconnected northern power grids were out of service for just a few hours. Nevertheless, the effects of this failure shook the entire nation both economically and politically. Citing possible theories for the disruption were low monsoon rains that prompted farmers to pump more water, and the less plausible possibility that the failure was resulted from large solar flares.
The power failure affecting the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. was the result of a "derecho," which is a widespread, straight-line windstorm lasting for an extended period that is typically associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms.
With most of the damage coming from high winds and fallen trees, the storm that ultimately affected a region stretching from Virginia westward to Ohio illustrated just how vulnerable the power grid is to disruptions caused by Mother Nature. By the same token, it also demonstrated just how unprepared the general population (and most especially people in urban areas) is to a major disruption or failure in the power delivery system.
As disruptive as the power outage in India was luckily it lasted only a few hours. The disruption in the U.S. lasted for several days, but in this case people were able to go to gas stations and malls for basic necessities like food and water, as well as air conditioning in the sweltering summer heat. It is important to note, though, that if the grid had been totally down food and water supplies would have disappeared almost immediately along with gasoline, batteries and just about everything else.
Many lessons were learned by this summer's power grid failure in the eastern U.S. These include the realization that cell phones cannot be counted on in an emergency, and that the internet is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. Additionally, we were provided with a preview of just what can happen when 911 and other emergency services are overwhelmed. And perhaps most importantly, just how unprepared most citizens are for a major disaster situation.