Avi Schnurr, CEO, and President at Electric Infrastructure Security Council
[Fair warning: this is not an “admire the problem” article. If you read this, you may feel you should get involved, and move beyond your comfort zone].
Ever since Hiroshima, we humans have been afraid that someday some madman would launch Armageddon. Sometimes it’s subconscious. Sometimes, when a mega-madman starts making actual threats, it’s in the headlines. But quite frankly, I’ve had just about enough.
Instead of agonizing, maybe it’s time we actually did something about it.
What could happen? A runaway cyberattack? A nuclear EMP strike? Or perhaps a catastrophic natural-event: A megaquake in the New Madrid seismic zone, breaking the gas lines that feed the US grid; or the next ~100-year solar storm, at a level that could shut down our tech-intensive infrastructures?
Known un-affectionally as “Black Sky” events, whenever the first one hits the modern world, it will be bad
But we’ve seen bad. WWI. WWII. Somehow people come together, work together, and the world recovers. Right?
I’m sorry to break this to you, but the world has changed.
Unlike in previous global holocausts, our lives depend today on a network of tightly interconnected high-tech infrastructures and supply chains. When the big one comes, whatever it is, any hope for recovery will require tools and capabilities that can put that network back together – while dealing with a catastrophe that will quickly metastasize to rupture the world.
So here’s the part that drives me crazy. We know what those tools and capabilities are.
We know what to do. The tools we’ll need all either exist or are already in development. They’re cheap to implement. They could all be deployed worldwide.
When the big one comes, whatever it is, any hope for recovery will require tools and capabilities that can put our lifeline infrastructures back together – while dealing with a massive disaster.
Without them: no hope.
With them: hope.
Did you get that? If we don’t get this done before the big one comes, we’re finished. If we’ve made a good start, we’ll have a chance.
Without them: no hope.
With them: hope.
Can you guess why I’m frustrated?
And let’s get specific here. This isn’t yet another article to “admire the problem.” In this short article I can’t go into detail, but I can name the four critical gaps that would prevent any hope of recovery, and highlight tools that could fill those gaps.
(If this matters to you, join us for the upcoming webinar with Imperial College London on Civilization-Scale Disaster. And ask questions during the panel discussion using “chat.” Go to: eiscouncil.org/events/imperial-college-eis/ If you miss(ed) it, write to us, and we’ll get you a link to the recording).
What are the critical gaps, and the tools/capabilities that can close them?
1. Communication: If we can’t talk, we can’t fix it
In a subcontinent-scale many-week event, communications, phone, internet will die or be massively disrupted.
There are off-the-shelf voice/data all hazard-protected systems that could create a grid-independent, multi-week emergency network to interconnect the organizations that could put it all back together in all critical sectors, worldwide. One example: The BSX communication system. Deployment has (just) begun in the US.
2. Blazing a trail to recovery through the chaos
Ok, the lights go out and stay out across much of a continent. Situational awareness? No. What are a decision-maker’s options for critical, immediate actions? Who knows?
Sorting through the chaos in a catastrophe on this scale will be far beyond human capabilities.
With an AI-enabled, all-sector situational awareness and decision support OS interconnecting all key corporations and suppliers, the chaos would be manageable.
GINOM, a new, state-of-the-art prototype exists, with foundation and government agency development funding. Work to complete this or some similar system needs to be massively accelerated.
3. Emergency power that won’t shut down in 24 hours
Most major corporations and suppliers have backup power, but few can operate more than a day or so. Adding a tiny, off-the-shelf long duration power module would add only a fraction to the cost, and keep urgent instruments operating.
The hardware to handle this is off-the-shelf.
4. Can grid restart be taken for granted?
Sometimes referred to as “the world’s largest machine,” if the grid shuts down in a huge area, it’s really, really hard to turn it back on. Power companies call that “blackstart,” and it’s almost never been tested in a real crisis. Yet blackstart capacity is being lost, worldwide. And there are no national policies or plans to lock in this capability as our grids turn green, or ensure that critical facilities will be EMP protected.
EIS Council has just received startup funding to work with industry and government experts to develop policy and technical recommendations to fill this gap. The “EPRO Blackstart Handbook” process needs to grow, to help reverse the losses and get policies in place that can lock this in for our greening grid.
Please get involved
I know you don’t have time. Asking your company to look into this will not help your career. If you tell your friends, they may not get it.
Do it anyway.
Remember when you were a child, and imagined you could fly? Join us, so tomorrow’s children will live, and thrive, and imagine humanity’s future.
Become a Council member (free for a limited time at eiscouncil.org).
Join the webinar to get better informed.
Spread the word.
President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt:
“To sit home, read one’s favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy, but it is markedly ineffective. It is what evil men count upon the good men’s doing.”