The potential for a catastrophic power outage in the United States is a topic we have covered frequently in our print magazine, as well as here on OFFGRIDweb. But this topic is also one we've often heard people dismiss as baseless paranoia. Everyone knows that short-term outages can happen as a result of storms or infrastructure interruptions, but many Americans still believe that there's no way a power outage could shut down large parts of the country for an extended period. And even if such a disaster occurred, there seems to be an assumption that the government would have foolproof contingency plans to fix it in no time. Those who naively believe this are in for a rude awakening — now more than ever.
Earlier this month, the President's National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) published a 94-page report on the risk of a catastrophic power outage in the United States. This report makes it crystal clear that a grid-down situation is not some distant or unlikely possibility. It's a very real threat. Here's an excerpt from the report's introduction:
“Increasing threats—whether severe natural disasters, cyber-physical attacks, electromagnetic events, or some combination—present new challenges for protecting the national power grid and recovering quickly from a catastrophic power outage.
After interviews with dozens of senior leaders and experts and an extensive review of studies and statutes, we found that existing national plans, response resources, and coordination strategies would be outmatched by a catastrophic power outage. This profound risk requires a new national focus. Significant public and private action is needed to prepare for and recover from a catastrophic outage that could leave the large parts of the nation without power for weeks or months, and cause service failures in other sectors— including water and wastewater, communications, transportation, healthcare, and financial services—that are critical to public health and safety and our national and economic security.”
The report continues, “The risk posed by a catastrophic power outage… is something that could paralyze entire regions, with grave implications for the nation’s economic and social well-being.
NIAC focused not on the cause, but rather on the consequences, which are best categorized as severe, widespread, and long-lasting. The type of event contemplated will include not only an extended loss of power, but also a cascading loss of other critical services—drinking water and wastewater, communications, financial services, transportation, fuel, healthcare, and others—which may slow recovery and impede re-energizing the grid. Most importantly, the scale of the event—stretching across states and regions, affecting tens of millions of people—would exceed and exhaust mutual aid resources and capabilities.”
The NIAC report also addresses the overall lack of individual preparedness in America today: “People no longer keep enough essentials within their homes, reducing their ability to sustain themselves during an extended, prolonged outage. We need to improve individual preparedness… [This idea] is not a new concept. Civil defense, an older term used to elevate a level of individual preparedness and activate communities, used to be more widely accepted.”
If there ever was more evidence needed to confirm the likelihood and seriousness of a catastrophic power outage in America, this NIAC report is it.
The other takeaway from this report is just how unprepared our nation is for such an event. This report serves as the beginning of a framework for a national approach to a grid-down scenario — in other words, there is no such framework in place today, and there probably won't be for quite some time. If you want to be truly prepared for a catastrophic power outage, the time is now and the responsibility is yours.
We'd strongly encourage anyone interested in the topic of a grid-down situation to take some time to read the report (or at least the . It's available as a free PDF from the Department of Homeland Security web site.