Any of us could wake up one day and realize the power and internet were out, and the radio stations, too. Who'd tell us why?
For a more sentimental reflection: as I recall one of the original, military, motives to building the internet was security through decentralized redundancy. However, this motive was largely overrun by the viral economic logic of consumer convenience at bargain prices. And the shareware playground of geeks quickly became the tectonic platforms of national economies and infrastructures. Ironic then, the inconvenient truth of your scenario, humans waking up dazed, gazing into blank screens, dim distorted reflections of their disfigured expectations. The horror! The horror! Not convenient! No bargain! How do I hit the Amazon return button on this?
The world you imagined you were living in, convenient, comfortable, literally designed to be responsive at your finger tips, disappears in an instant, in a cloud of wind swept pixel dust! Each left to paddle their primal puddle of agitated narcissism in local cultures of self-sufficiency now dis-integrated, like culturally re-programmed injun kids fleeing a residential school! Ah, the irony!
Whenever we hit a cold snap I pray the grid will hold up. Last year the Texas grid went down for a few days and a few hundred died. What would a 3 day outage in say, Edmonton, at -30 C do?
While I try very hard not to catastrophize too much, I fear that Matt's article is spot-on in terms of our true readiness for these types of attacks. We really do sleep the sleep of angels....wasting so much time on culture wars instead of clear and present threats. Solid article.
That's why radio stations have backup generators and why radio is still valuable. The scenario described is not all that different from what took place in Halifax almost 20 years ago when the hurricane hit. Which is why everyone should have a hand crank radio. Or lots of batteries. Those that do will have the best information on how to avoid the zombies or at least know where to get food.
Your scenario is all to plausible. I just hope our leaders are taking it seriously. They are certainly making the right noises, ... they have done that before. With Xi Jinping, and his CCP flunkies in the PRC, Vlad and the gang in Russia, and the US going through its own crisis. I can only hope that Canada starts taking defence seriously.
A cold weather blackout has been studied by working groups at IESO with H1 and OPG. Every blackout event is unique and could have serious consequences. As we transition from fossil fuels, for travel and heating, our reliance on the grid becomes increasingly important. Most backup power uses fuel and only buys time. Most families are not prepared for outages longer than a couple days. Great article imo.
We're probably reliant on a US defense umbrella with respect to the cyber security threat. US military capabilities are hardened against this type of attack. Their cyber warfare capabilities are oriented outwards because of statutory restrictions on domestic activities, but they'll quickly identify the culprits behind a cyber attack and retaliate. That retaliation could easily take the form of bombs on targets as well, and it might be time for the US to elucidate a strategic ambiguity on that topic like their refusal to adopt a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
One day early on in the pandemic, we lost, at the same time, both our internet service and our cell phone service (different providers) for about an hour. It was a fine spring day and there was no power outage. Our “land line” uses VOIP so is dependent on our internet to work. I remember being struck with the realization that, short of walking down the road to our nearest neighbour, we had absolutely no way of communicating with anyone, nor they with us. It was a distinctly helpless feeling. Your article reminded me of this small event, and of just how vulnerable we have become. Unfortunately, I have little faith that our current crop of politicians are giving it any thought. Much like the pandemic, they just hope it doesn’t happen.
A good read in follow up to this article… One Second After is a 2009 novel by American writer William R. Forstchen.
On the coldest day of the year, you give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Ah, sweet dreams tonight.
... back to carrier pigeons and pony express 😄
You are spot-on to bring up the cyber-war issue, one that may have Canada ill prepared. For what I know, while some companies have contingency plans and utilities (should) have off-line backup policies and procedures to keep our lights on, the biggest vulnerability comes from the IoT (see https://www.crowdstrike.com/blog/linux-targeted-malware-increased-by-35-percent-in-2021/)
Medical devices, fridges, smart thermostats (or smart anything)... Imagine all Ecobees or Nest thermostats are disabled in Canada right now. You can't start your furnace. Fun, eh?.
Interesting article, Matt. Eric Walters wrote a series of young adult novels, imagining a very similar scenario and the effects that a situation like this would have on our cities. I know young people drank the stuff up, and come away thinking that the internet and computers are not nearly as invincible as they seem to be.
I know TheLine rants are dashed off without any citations or specific research. But it really does take only moments to google up that radio stations ALL have backup power, since emergency broadcasting *requirements* are part of their FCC/CRTC license.
I wasn't aware that power was "notoriously" easy to hack, but I'll give it to you. I have to admit, the water treatment plant I sat in on the meetings for "Y2K Preparation" was terrible at maintaining the 'air-gap' and, incredibly, had control systems running on Windows. Finding places where some operator closed the 'air gap' so he could watch YouTube on his console isn't hard - if you troll through dozens of systems looking for one ransomware victim. Security guys are constantly finding these holes and shutting them. But to have them ALL be vulnerable would be a staggering coincidence of hundreds of systems being breakable on the same day.
And then...after the power plant shuts down, what? Well, they call out more staff, go to a dozen locations that have a big switch with positions "ON / OFF / AUTO" and move it from AUTO (computer in control) to ON or OFF, and stand by their walkie-talkie for when it needs to be controlled manually. The difference between any plant with 2 operators and a computer, and a plant with no computer ... is about 12 more operators, and walkie-talkies if cells are down. The walkie-talkies pre-date cells, were never discarded, certainly not after Y2K.
The *essential* services will be back up same day, mostly same-hour.
What about that pipeline? Here's where I raise my real argument: thank-you, Matt, for explaining to your readers why they should never again vote for a conservative politician. The *essential* services have been debated much during the pandemic, but the term has not just a definition but a budget. Water, sewer, power and gas all have "emergency operations and continuity management" personnel, budgets, binders of instructions, backup systems. The astounding repair of the Coquihalla, in mid-winter, through storms, shows what resources the public/utility sector is ready to bring to emergencies.
A gas-pipeline company is private. Oil is not a designated "essential service". So they do ONLY what they are both regulated and enforced into doing, and slack off the instant the enforcement weakens. It's always conservatives weakening the requirements and the enforcement.
The resiliency of the public health system is often degraded by liberal governments, but always, certainly, definitely by every conservative. Resiliency looks like "government waste" to them, all those extra beds. It's the same with the extra staff needed for emergency response. The lack of resiliency in the private sector is always, to them, proof that the private sector is "more efficient".
The resilience of all my colleague's plants in the UK dropped after Thatcher privatized them, mostly by hollowing out staff and reducing maintenance. They would give conference talks about "doing more with less", then talk at coffee about how worried they were.
A last comment on resilience: Buy an EV. Buy a charger for it that lets the EV power your house. You just became independent of the grid for about 3 days at a time. The 21st century could be the golden age of resilience.