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The Premise: The notion that the American power grid system is vulnerable to a cyberattack or an electromagnetic pulse device, launched by terrorists or a foreign nation, is a frightening premise. In Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, Ted Koppel, one of the nation’s most experienced and well-known journalists, outlines the realities of an attack on the American power grid, the vulnerabilities plaguing the defense systems which protect it, and the preparations that Americans can take now to prepare for an unthinkable grid-down scenario.
The 411: Koppel uses his proven skills in journalism to thoroughly explore not only the vulnerability of an aging power grid system, but also the politics that envelop hardening the system itself. The first few chapters offer an in-depth analysis of how the American power grid functions and the vulnerabilities attached to it. It can be technically difficult to follow at times, however, Koppel paints a compelling picture through several interviews with leading security experts on the potential impact that an attack on the nation’s power grid could have on everyday living. The remainder of the book explores individuals who have either developed contingency plans for long-term power outages, or currently live entirely off the grid. The book warns that our worst fears are grounded in plausibility, and that the failure to acknowledge the threat could be our biggest concern of all.
The Verdict: If a nationwide blackout occurred, it’s easy to imagine it could last for weeks to months. For those without prior preparations, tens of millions of Americans would face the loss of running water, sewage, refrigeration, and light. Communities would live an existence devoid of creature comforts, and many might acquiesce to rudimentary forms of survival, such as looting. Koppel paints a vivid picture of this scenario and lays out a technical but comprehensible map on how it could actually occur. Lights Out is both an acknowledgement of the power grid’s vulnerability, as well as a call to action to for the government and its citizens. While the federal government may be underprepared to aid citizens in a grid-down scenario, Koppel traverses the nation to find those who have exemplified personal preparedness measures for a myriad of disaster scenarios, including the decimation of the national power grid.
While the first several chapters of the book involve a large amount of technical jargon, they paint the picture that our nation is vulnerable to a large-scale cyber or electromagnetic pulse attack. It’s here that Koppel’s journalistic instincts shine as he interviews the nation’s top security experts and explores our level of readiness, both nationally and individually. The end result is a thesis that’s both sobering and hopeful, warning us that our worst fears may be grounded in reality and enlightening us at the same time. Ted Koppel hopes to provoke readers to prepare for a catastrophe that could potentially destroy modern civilization and succeeds in doing so.
The question of whether our nation can withstand the potential destruction of a cyberterrorist attack on its power grid, be it through rogue organizations or by state sponsorship, is an important one. Ted Koppel effectively delivers a book that raises more questions than it answers, but poses the kind of questions that elicit true discussion amongst our national security advisors as well as average families. Lights Out is alarming, but rife in purpose and relevance to all who read it, making a significant contribution to the mindset of any prepared individual.
Book & Author
Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath
by Ted Koppel