H. Res. 762

Civil Defense: Why We Need a Congressional Resolution

Civil Defense: Why We Need It

Here are two undisputed facts:

  1. FACT: The electric grid is extremely vulnerable to a variety of natural and man-made threats.
  2. FACT: A long-term loss of the electric grid would be catastrophic for the U.S.

The Civil Defense Book. Prepping for a Suburban or Rural Community: Building a Civil Defense Plan for a Long-Term CatastropheEverything depends on the electric grid. Food, water, fuel, sanitation, medical services, the economy and everything else that enables the United States to support its population of 314 million people. Without the grid, supporting this population would be impossible.  Any large scale power outage for any significant length of time (several weeks or more) would put millions of Americans at risk. In a long term national power outage, millions of Americans would die. We would die of starvation, disease and societal collapse. A danger of this magnitude threatens the security of the United States.

It is a fact that a long term power outage is possible – and the results of such an outage are predicable.  So there is a third fact to add to our list:

  1. FACT: The electric grid is extremely vulnerable to a variety of natural and man-made threats.
  2. FACT: A long-term loss of the electric grid would be catastrophic for the U.S.
  3. FACT: A danger of this magnitude is a national security concern.

If you are at all skeptical, I encourage you to do your own research. Congress certainly has. There are reams of federal reports and congressional hearings that discuss the threats to the grid and the ramifications of a long-term power outage (click here for a comprehensive list of these documents). 

I have not heard (nor can I imagine) any serious debate about the above three facts.

Despite the heroic efforts of a bi-partisan group in Congress, the U.S. has failed to pass any legislation to protect the electric grid since these vulnerabilities and dangers first started to come to light 15 years ago. There have been many bills introduced – all have failed so far. How is this possible? Well, let’s remember what “the grid” is. There are over 3000 electricity providers in the United States. And these companies and utilities make political contributions. As Judge Jeanine of Fox News recently reported:

There is one bill that can help us prevent this catastrophe and remedy our vulnerability. And make no mistake – it can be remedied.

And one person holds the keys to the kingdom. Congressman Fred Upton from Michigan is the chair of the House Energy Committee where these kind of laws are funneled. Bills that can protect us are bottled up in his committee.

Curiously though, almost 60 percent of Congressman Upton’s campaign contributions are from electric utilities, lobbyists, and oil and gas investors.

Of course the companies that comprise the electric grid don’t want government regulation.  They claim that the industry does not need congress to be involved – in other words they’ve got it (move along, there is nothing to see here.) For example, see this interview by the Wall Street Journal of Nick Akins, CEO of American Electric Power:  

So, the utility companies do not see the need for the government to get involved. But somehow, we are still vulnerable. They have failed to take action themselves to harden the grid from known threats. “Self-regulation” by the industry has failed here.

Moreover, many politicians receive generous campaign contributions from these companies. Draw whatever inference you will, but the end result is that Congress has been unsuccessful for years in enacting legislation to protect the electric grid – and the American people.

So let’s review what we know.

  1. FACT: The electric grid is extremely vulnerable to a variety of natural and man-made threats.
  2. FACT: A long-term loss of the electric grid would be catastrophic for the U.S.
  3. FACT: A danger of this magnitude is a national security concern.
  4. FACT: The companies that comprise the electric grid do not wish to be regulated.
  5. FACT: The companies that comprise the electric grid make substantial campaign contributions.
  6. FACT: Self-regulation by the industry has failed to address the vulnerabilities of the electric grid.
  7. FACT: Congress has not passed legislation to protect the grid.

Some in Congress get it

We still have some heroes in Congress such as Trent Franks (R-AZ), Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and the other members of the bi-partisan Congressional Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Caucus who have introduced the SHIELD Act and CIPA in the House. There are also Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) who reintroduced the GRID Act into the House and Senate.

There are presently four bills pending in congress this session – three in the house and one in the Senate: 

Two of these bills would actually attempt to harden the grid from the known threats (the SHIELD Act and the GRID Act). One bill would simply include the threat of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) events in national planning scenarios (CIPA).

There are two possible outcomes:

  1. Congress will pass one or more of these bills (unlikely, in my view)
  2. Congress will again fail to pass any legislation (likely, in my view)

Even if legislation is passed this session, it would take years to actually harden the grid and actually be prepared on a national level for a long term power outage. The president’s ink on the bottom of the bill turning it into law does not immediately harden the grid. It could take years for regulations to be written, implemented and concrete results to take place. Remember, the utilities do not want to be regulated and will work vehemently to delay and soften any regulations that may come in the future from a new law. They are well organized. The same apparatus that opposed legislation for years will continue to resist. We can rest assured that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), as the mouth piece of the electric industry, will work tirelessly to oppose, delay and soften regulations.

And that is the best case scenario! While we badly need this legislation in the interest of national security, it will not be an instant fix.

On the other hand, there is a strong possibility that legislation will not pass and America (and all of us) will remain at substantial risk to natural and man-made threats to the electric grid – threats that literally could kill us by the thousands and millions.

Does anybody think that the electric company is going to take care of you and your family if the grid gets taken down long term? Since the federal and state governments do not even drill for such a scenario (the purpose of the CIPA Act), we are unprepared as a nation to deal with a catastrophe of this magnitude.

Civil Defense: Why We Need a Congressional ResolutionThe fatal flaw in our emergency management system is that it depends on the ability to bring in outside resources if the scope of the emergency overwhelms the local capabilities. The problem is, in a national scale emergency where a large part of the country is in trouble at the same time, where are the resources going to come from? Who’s going to deliver them?  

This means that if the grid goes down for a long period of time, federal and state aid will not be coming any time soon to the tens of thousands of cities and towns across America. FEMA does not have a plan, or the capability, to helicopter in MREs, fuel, medicine and water to over 30,000 towns and cities (or even a fraction of that number).

Survival will be a local issue. The cavalry will not be coming.

So let’s add two final facts to our list:

  1. FACT: The electric grid is extremely vulnerable to a variety of natural and man-made threats.
  2. FACT: A long-term loss of the electric grid would be catastrophic for the U.S.
  3. FACT: A danger of this magnitude is a national security concern.
  4. FACT: The companies that comprise the electric grid do not wish to be regulated.
  5. FACT: The companies that comprise the electric grid make substantial campaign contributions.
  6. FACT: Self-regulation by the industry has failed to address the vulnerabilities of the electric grid.
  7. FACT: Congress has not passed legislation to protect the grid.
  8. FACT: The federal and state governments are unprepared for a national scale loss of the electric grid.
  9. FACT: In a national scale power outage, local governments (towns and cities) will be on their own for a long period of time.

This brings me to what I really want to say. We need legislation to protect the grid, but we also need our communities to be prepared, self-reliant and resilient.

We need a civil defense resolution from Congress

Perhaps my all-time favorite piece of failed legislation is House Resolution 762 (112th Congress).   It was one of the major inspirations for my book and I’ve written about it here on my website.

Communities need to be aware of the threat (which most are not) and work to be prepared and resilient. I would venture to guess that very few – if any – communities in the United States are prepared for a long term loss of our critical infrastructures.

A House Resolution that encourages communities to have a civil defense plan and to prepare for a worst case scenario is critical to those of us at the grass roots level who are trying to accomplish this. Presently, Emergency Managers across the country believe that outside resources will always be available to help “the disaster area.” Since we have never had a national-scale catastrophe, such as a long-term loss of the electric grid, nobody is planning for it. Nobody is prepared for it. Nobody is even thinking about it. The very strength of our present emergency management system is also a critical weakness: It only works when there are outside resources to call in. (I wrote about this here.

We need a civil defense Congressional Resolution to get the attention of our local governments and local emergency managers that a national scale catastrophe is a realistic scenario and it is the local communities that will be holding the bag if the grid goes down long term. (They really need to think about putting some long term preparedness and resilience in that bag.)

Note to Mr. Franks, Ms. Clarke and the House EMP Caucus:

Reintroducing and passing a resolution like the 112th Congress’ H. Res 762 is critical: While it won’t harden the grid, it will harden the country. Moreover, as communities start to think about how they can prepare for a long-term catastrophe, there is sure to be an outcry to Congress and the federal government to protect the grid so this never happens to begin with.

But if somehow it does happen, we need our communities to be prepared if America is to survive.

Civil Defense: Why We Need a Congressional Resolution

Yvette Clarke (D-NY)

Civil Defense: Why We Need a Congressional Resolution

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)

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Community Preparedness: Is Your Town Prepared for a Long Term Blackout?

Congress thinks we need a community preparedness “civil defense” plan for a long term electric grid outage. So why doesn’t your town have one?

 “Seven U.S. government departments and agencies have now concluded that if our national electric grid is not upgraded to ensure its continuity in the event of a massive solar event — which happen about every hundred years,– or of an attack, we could face a blackout lasting four to 10 years, costing countless lives and potentially bringing cataclysmic damage to U.S. society as we know it. It could emerge as the most severe crisis in modern history.” Representatives Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.)

 

Read more about House Resolution 762 here.

Congresswoman Clarke - Community Preparedness: Is Your Town Prepared for a Long Term Blackout?

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY)

Rep. Trent Franks - Community Preparedness: Is Your Town Prepared for a Long Term Blackout?

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)

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Is Emergency Management Ready for a Long-Term Blackout?

Is Emergency Management in the U.S. – and in your community – prepared for a long-term loss of the electric grid?

Here is FEMA’s definition of Emergency Management: it is the managerial function charged with creating the framework within which communities reduce vulnerability to hazards and cope with disasters. Emergency Management protects communities by coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters.

That is a good mouthful of federalspeak for “the people holding the (mostly empty) bag when the grid goes down.”

Is Emergency Management Ready for a Long-Term Blackout?One of the strengths of modern Emergency Management is its flexibility. Most towns can handle a structure fire or an auto accident with their own resources. But when something larger happens, like a tornado, a fiery multi-car pile up with multiple casualties, the system expands and resources are brought in from neighboring towns. And in a larger scale disaster, like a hurricane or earthquake, resources can be brought in from the federal government and agencies all over the state or country. So, in theory (and in practice) Emergency Management can handle disasters small and large.

But this strength is also a critical weakness: What if the disaster was of national scale and so there were no outside resources available to help your town? What if you were on your own?

Two recent articles in Emergency Management publications discuss such scenarios. The first was an article in Fire Engineering by Ken Chrosniak: Electric Power Blackout: The Power of One. The second was an article by Garrison Wells published by Emergency Management Magazine: Threat of Massive Grid Shutdown Increasing in Face of Disasters. If you are an emergency manager, you really need to read these articles: You and your jurisdiction are not prepared for a long-term blackout.

So let’s do a quick tabletop exercise.

Scenario: A massive solar flare (coronal mass ejection) has taken down the majority of the electric grid in the United States. Many of the extra-high-voltage (EHV) transformers have been damaged and it may be months – or longer – before power is restored. All you have is whatever resources your town or jurisdiction currently has on hand (disasters are, after all, “come as you are”). If you want to spice it up, assume this is in the worst season for your area, e.g., winter in New England or summer in Texas. Because this is a national scale disaster, you can’t count on any aid from the outside for the foreseeable future – perhaps months. The cavalry is not coming.

Exercise Objectives: (Oh, I forgot to mention, you’re going to fail this tabletop and half the population or more of your town will die – but that’s okay. This is only a drill. The purpose of a drill is to harvest the lessons learned and do better next time – or when it happens for real. The vast majority of towns, states and even the federal government have never drilled this scenario.)

The objectives are:

  1. Determine what resources and capabilities you have
  2. Determine the obvious problems your town/jurisdiction will face
  3. Think about things that could be done prior to an event to prepare and mitigate

The first objective is fairly simple. You probably already have a good idea of what your town’s resources are. But, your existing resources and capabilities may be less than you think. Will all your resources show up to work if their families are in jeopardy from a national catastrophe? Also, even if most of them do, remember that all you have is what you have in town now. fuel, medical supplies, number of cops and firemen. Nothing else is available.

For the second objective, I’m not even going to throw in any injects. The facts are bad enough. When the grid goes down for a long period of time, we can briefly broad-brush the challenges to a town as follows:

  • Long-term interruption of power
    • People will be without heat/AC.
    • People will be without refrigeration.
    • People will be without the ability to perform basic things like cooking or boiling water.
    • People will be without basic sanitation and, hence, at risk for diseases.
    • People may be without transportation immediately (EMP damage) or soon (lack of fuel).
    • Most, if not all, forms of communication will be disrupted.
    • Critical backup generators will soon run out of fuel.
  • Long-term interruption of supply chain
    • Food will stop.
    • Fuel will stop.
    • Medicine and medical supplies to pharmacies will stop.
    • All products, parts and supplies will stop.
  • Long-term interruption of essential services
    • Water service will stop.
    • Sewer service will stop.
    • Fire, EMS, and police will be unable to respond (for lack of fuel, personnel and communications).
    • Medical services will be severely disrupted or unavailable.
  • Collapse of law and order (temporary or permanent)
    • The police will not have the manpower, communications, or transportation to provide security for the community.
    • Desperate people will resort to looting, burglary, robbery, or any means necessary to get food and water.
    • It is unlikely that federal help is “on the way” anytime soon
    • Many local governments will quickly become ineffective.
  • Starving refugees arriving from urban areas
    • Even if, miraculously, you live in a community that is prepared and has a plan to attack the above challenges, look to your nearest urban areas—refugees will soon be forced to flee the cities. Any plan for a town’s survival will have to address how to humanely handle desperate refugees while protecting the town and maintaining law and order.
    • Town borders will have to be monitored and protected.
    • Town assets will have to be guarded from looters/criminals.

When you really think about the implications of each of the items above – and begin to put this operating picture together, it is grim. And, local Emergency Management will be holding the bag. Nobody higher is coming in to become the incident commander. The National Guard can’t come to every town (and they have their own problems – guardsman are going to have a tough choice when asked to report to duty when their families are in danger.)

Let’s take one of the above problems as an example: Desperate people will resort to looting, burglary, robbery, or any means necessary to get food and water.

So, you have a grocery store and a pharmacy in town. Those are going to quickly become targets. How many meals does the average family in your town (and neighboring towns) have in the cupboard? With the supply chain gone and no food coming in, what do you think will happen one week from now when people are out of food? This means you are X number of meals away from anarchy. Can your law enforcement resources handle this?

Is Emergency Management Ready for a Long-Term Blackout?Let’s look at another: Water service will stop.

Most people get water either from “city water” service or a well. Both require electricity. The vast majority of your town will be without their primary water supply. People are going to be at risk for waterborne diseases – if they are lucky enough to even have questionable water to drink.

As you go through and think about the implications of each of the above (and perhaps a few more that you may think of – the above list is not comprehensive) one thing becomes clear. Emergency Management’s dependence on outside resources when the size of the disaster overwhelms the local capabilities has failed us here. We need to be able to depend on ourselves in this worst-case national catastrophe scenario.

It is also clear that for any town or jurisdiction to adequately prepare, mitigate, respond and recover from a long term electric grid outage, we need to do a lot of work beforehand. This brings us to the third objective: what could be done prior to an event to prepare and mitigate?

The answer is a lot.

The answer is not “that could never happen” (because it could) or, “if that happened, there is just no way to be prepared for it” (because that is just patently false). Several members of Congress have been concerned about this vulnerability of the electric grid for years and there are reams of Congressional testimony and federal reports that conclude that this can happen. Moreover, several members of congress advocated in 2012 that communities start a civil defense program and be prepared to fend for themselves in the absence of federal assistance for a prolonged period of time.

It would be great if the federal government took concrete steps to protect the electric grid. Legislative attempts to do so have failed for years to make it out of committee. The companies that own and operate the electric grid are against such legislation – and they have a lot of money to lobby against it.

So, in absence of the federal government taking steps to protect the grid, local Emergency Management must take steps to protect their towns – to prepare, mitigate, respond and recover from a national-scale long-term blackout. This scenario needs to be one of the hazards considered in our “all hazard” comprehensive approach.

Some initial suggested steps.

  1. Every town and jurisdiction should do a tabletop drill with a long-term national blackout scenario (months).
  2. Nobody has a budget for this – you will need community involvement. Starting a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) or involving your CERT Team if you have one, is a great way to start getting the community involved.
  3. If you can get some public interest, consider starting a non-profit civil defense organization that has this specific mission:

(a) To educate and promote individual, family, and town preparedness for disasters;

(b) To provide disaster assistance and relief to town residents in the event of a disaster; and

(c) To educate and provide planning and resource options to the town for preparation and response to a “worst-case,” long-term catastrophe affecting the town.

Some members of Congress attempted to pass a resolution advocating that communities and their citizens do this. While House Resolution 762 (112th Congress) may have died in committee along with other legislation to protect the electric grid, a good idea does not need to pass congress to be a good idea.

Is Emergency Management Ready for a Long-Term Blackout? You will have to answer this question for your own town or jurisdiction. After all, it will be local Emergency Management that owns this problem. It will be too late for you to figure it out once the lights go off.

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