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LIGHTS OUT:

A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.

By Ted Koppel

Crown Publishers, New York, 262 pages

Book Review by Tammy Reiss

Lights Out - jacket image_BW_VNVirtually all our civilian infrastructure – including telecommunications, water, sanitation, transportation, healthcare, oil and natural gas pipelines – depends on three aging electrical power grids. On a daily basis our nation’s grid is vulnerable to cyberattacks, digital time bombs, natural disasters and physical attacks.

Ted Koppel, an award-winning journalist and forty-two-year veteran of ABC News, has an urgent message for America in his book Lights Out. He wants us to know it’s not safe to assume the federal government, in the interest of safeguarding what is arguably the most critical infrastructure in the country, can simply impose security and maintenance standards on the industry. At present it cannot.

The list of people who appear in the book reads like a who’s who in the nation’s energy security services, procurements, and logistics. It is organized in three parts. Part one reveals how a majority of the experts interviewed concede the power grid is not as protected and resilient as our government and the industry would like the public to believe. It’s not a matter of if millions of residents will simultaneously lose their connection to the grid, for days or months on end, but when.

It’s not a matter of IF the Grid will go
down – It’s a matter of WHEN!

The book gives an example of a physical attack to the U.S. grid by reporter Rebecca Smith. The uncontested story was printed in the Wall Street Journal, Febuary 5, 2014. A well-organized attack using AK-47s on a California substation took place on April 16, 2013, destroying seventeen giant transformers. This attack caught the attention of our top military leaders.

Part two covers the logistical nightmares of replacing transformers. More than 75% of our country’s custom built transformers come from overseas. Each can cost upwards of $10 million and take months to receive. This section of the book continues with how inadequately prepared U.S. emergency response groups are trained to handle an extended power outage.

Part three reiterates how there is no national strategy in place incase our nation’s grid is brought down by a cyberattack. Koppel shares an interview with retired NSA director, Keith Alexander, owner of IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc. Mr. Alexander is used as an example of how our system of government allows departing government officials the ability to transform their expertise, experience, andcontacts into extraordinarily high fees, contracts and lucrative businesses.

An electrical substation in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania. Photo by Andrew Bossi CC-BY-SA-2.5

An electrical substation in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania. Photo by Andrew Bossi CC-BY-SA-2.5

After the reader considers the sum of all the factors presented, it should be no wonder that a new lifestyle of resiliency and self-reliance is emerging. One branch of this movement is known as “preppers.” A prepper is a person who believes a catastrophic disaster or emergency is likely to occur in the future and makes active preparations for it, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition and other supplies for “Doomsday.” It is estimated there are three million preppers, and the movement is growing around the country. While the author does not brand people of the Mormon faith as preppers, he does use the actions taken by the Mormon Church as another example of how some people are taking personal responsibility for their own well-being when a catastrophe arises, instead of completely depending on outside help.

A few people interviewed for the book use renewable energy as a way to be more self-reliant. Because this group’s goals and reasons for becoming self-reliant are entirely different from the run-of-the-mill prepper’s goals, they would rather be referred to as “early adopters.” The “early adopters” are highlighted in the book as more resilient and better prepared, while providing a glimpse into a more sustainable future.

A reasonable conclusion is that electricity is what keeps our society tethered to modern times, but that society is dependent on an unprotected industry that puts profit ahead of building a resilient infrastructure – and this compromises our nation’s security.

Tammy Reiss teaches and promotes energy efficiency and independence through renewables and energy conservation in the Marcellus Shale region of New York State.

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