What is a Black Sky Exercise?

R. Ranger Dorn, Exercise Coordinator, EIS Council

Black Sky Hazard

The organizations we have come to rely on today have several training methods up their sleeves to secure their preparedness for any worst-case scenario.

However, very few organizations step out from the pack when it comes to the exercises they conduct.

For example, some organizations perform exercises to be able to check the required box, some repeat the same activities and admit that they are still not ready, others challenge themselves by introducing a doomsday event to their employees. The organizations that fall into the latter are the ones that often win the game.

These organizations challenge themselves with something that will likely never happen – say, a zombie apocalypse. But, what about those events that are highly-likley to happen? That is, Black Sky Events. Heard of them?

A Black Sky Event is one of a number of natural or artificial events that cause widespread, long-term power outages. In the past, for example, the 1800s or even much of the early 1900s, a Black Sky Catastrophe would not have been much of a life-changing event. However, the same can’t be said about our current standard of life, introduced to us by the expansion of technology. Starting around WWII, the need for power to run and manage our complex society increased exponentially. Most of our processes in society are now electric power dependent. Therefore, loss of power means loss of communications and, as a result, cascading consequences in communities and the supply chain. Transportation, water, and wastewater systems require electricity to function, as do retail of most types. A weeklong loss of power in a region will also cost lives, hospitals, homes, and elsewhere. A one-month regional power loss will have many long-term impacts, etc. 

So, what about a Black Sky Exercise?

No one wants to experience a Black Sky Event, and few want to ask what the impacts and consequences might be.

But, for those adventurous few, a Black Sky exercise is an opportunity to do so. An training exersise such as this thrusts participants into the midst of a potential Black Sky scenario a region and an organization might encounter.

This exercise is designed to be a bad day with realistic cascading consequences, no easy solution, or apparent recovery period. Consequenses, such as the following, are what particiants can expect to experience: communications failiure; the internet down in the region; fuel scarce; store shelves stripped bare; Water systems no longer operating; hospitals without power, and so on.

How an organization deals with each is the true test of plans and resilience. The Black Sky Exercise allows organizations to perform a reality check in a no-fault environment without a bad day happening. It allows discretionary time to prepare for that rare but very possible Black Sky Event. Consider what’s happening to Ukraine as an example.

Our annual EARTH EX Exercise provides another opportunity to challenge your assumptions. Tens of thousands in over 40 countries have participated in EARTH EX over the last five years.

So, in the future, rather than taking the “easy route,” why not try a Black Sky Training Exercise?

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