Wednesday, October 30, 2013

American Blackout: Trick?...or Treat?

By Jim McFarlin

Was the timing of National Geographic’s American Blackout TV special just before Halloween inadvertently ironic? Or intentional?

If inadvertent, mark it up to curious scheduling. If intentional, are we being “tricked” by a Hollywood-style dramatization of disturbing events for entertainment purposes? Or are we being “treated” to a reality show warning us of calamitous circumstances to come, circumstances that are already storm clouds on the horizon?

For those who missed the show, American Blackout tells the story of a nation descending into social chaos following extended loss of electrical power due to cyberattacks.

The Nat Geo story, although as gripping as it is comprehensive, is incomplete. Here is the rest of the story.

First, the Nat Geo highlights:

  • After six or seven days, civilized order unravels and leads to escalating violence.
  • Those prepared with caches of food and water find themselves becoming targets.
  • Overwhelmed, understaffed and out of supplies, health organizations effectively cease to function by the end of the first week.
  • Swamped by mushrooming demand for rapidly shrinking supplies, emergency relief organizations can no longer be relied on for help.

Will circumstances be as bleak as presented in the film? No one knows for sure.

What we do know is that citizens will find themselves increasingly on their own in a dark, dangerous world, where money has no value and strength and safety are derived from relationships and social currency. Within two weeks, many will perish from lack of water or food, accidents, and violence.

Proper emergency planning can mitigate a portion of these impacts. But the “treat,” the message that I hope the American Blackout producers aimed to send, is increasing awareness that strong and immediate action to protect our electrical power grids (many of which are seriously outdated and vulnerable) is an absolute necessity.

Instead, no sense of emergency or urgency is in sight. Plans are debated; drills are set; finger pointing abounds – but progress is lacking. The clock toward an American Blackout scenario keeps ticking. All that is needed is for one attack to be successful.

Perhaps blinded by denial or blithely convinced of the inevitability of cyber protections to come, America hurtles toward being both participant and victim in its own destructive destiny.

At that time, we will be facing neither the fantasy of trick or treat, but the stark reality of a future so chillingly portrayed in a film on the eve of Halloween 2013.

(Featured image: Thomas Backa/Flickr)

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