America’s Power Grid: Vulnerable or Not?

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The current threat posed by North Korea can be debated back and forth, but one thing we know for certain is that the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un, has weapons capable of of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack. This thought is terrifying and we citizens have no way of knowing how far those capabilities go and whether or not we might live in a targeted area.

Not very comforting, and I tend toward paranoia in the best of times. A war here on American soil is a terrifying thought.

Dictators are more interested in self-preservation than anything else, and, perhaps, that’s the one thought that gives me a bit of comfort. All the same, America’s power grids are not all that secure and definitely not hardened against this type of attack.

America’s power grids

America has 3 separate power grids, the Eastern grid, the Western grid, and the Texas grid, which is owned by Texas. These 3 networks are not connected with each other. Therefore, if one should go down, it cannot get energy from the other two.

These grids connect power generating plants with giant transformers that, once installed, weigh over 800,000 pounds. From these primary transformers, power is transmitted along high voltage lines that connect with smaller transformers and substations, which ultimately bring power to homes, businesses, and industries.

As impressive as our generating stations are and as complex as the system is, there are numerous weaknesses that make it vulnerable to an EMP, as well as sabotage, cyberterrorism, and a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).

The giant transformers that collect the initial power generated would be rendered inoperable by an EMP. These transformers are not built in the United States. Our country no longer has the forging equipment to make something that large. It generally takes a couple of years to build transformers this size, and that’s assuming current infrastructure is in place and functioning. In a big enough crisis, it might be possible for a power station to procure one of these giant transformers more quickly, but that isn’t something anyone should count on.

Even though many power plants have backup transformers, these, too, could be disabled by an EMP unless they are protected in some way.

Another weakness in our power grid system is the reliance on backup generators for the continued operation of our power plants. The concept is great and will work during a typical catastrophe, such as a hurricane, earthquake or short-term blackout. However, the pulse generated by an EMP will affect most of the systems that keep these plants running, and that will most likely include the backup generators. Even if some of the generators remain in working order, they will still need an indefinite supply of fuel to maintain a level of energy production, and the production and transportation of that fuel will be just as affected by EMP than the generators themselves.

Finally, there is the human element. The people who run these power plants also have children and loved ones that they will want to protect and provide for in the event of a catastrophic event. In fact, they, more than most of us, will quickly realize the implications of the power grid failure. It’s unreasonable to expect them to continue on their jobs, against all odds and in constant danger, in order to make Herculean efforts to restore power – if that would even be possible. Without the necessary staff on hand, the plant cannot continue to operate.

Why no protection against EMP?

A number of years ago I spent some time with a relative who had worked on a task force as a police officer in a large city. He was aware of the vulnerability of the 2 large, local power plants but said, “The people who run these plants know about EMP and other threats but don’t care to spend the money in order to harden their systems.”

Why doesn’t that surprise me? Congress hasn’t shown much interest, either. Two Congressional EMP reports are almost a decade old, and yet, nothing has been done to protect the power grids the entire country relies on. (Do take some time to read this report — it’s more readable than most other government documents.) As recently as 2015, members of Congress have known of the threat but with no action.

This emphasizes the need of every household in the country to go full-on YOYO, You’re On Your Own. It’s pointless to sit and wait while those in power dilly, dally, and collect contributions to their so-called War Chests before making the decision to discuss an issue. With Kim Jong-Un at the helm of a rogue country with nuclear weapons and 25% of the population participating in his military. We can laugh at the rotund dictator, but with his pudgy finger near the nuclear green-light button, it doesn’t pay to ignore the menace.

Wondering what to do first to prepare? These articles are a good starting point:

 

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