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american-blackoutAmerican Blackout, a two-hour made-for-TV movie, aired on National Geographic Channel this past Sunday night. It was a dramatization of what could happen in the ten days following a nationwide electrical grid failure caused by a cyber attack. This is a very real threat. Just Google “power grid cyber attack” and look at all the hits you get. Things like this report from Bloomberg.com: Power Grid Cyber Attack Seen Leaving Millions in the Dark for Months

I found the movie to be reasonably realistic. I think it downplayed violence, but it certainly didn’t eliminate it altogether. It followed a number of people through the circumstances the blackout left them in, including a prepper family, some urban apartment dwellers, and a group of college students. Seeing how each of them dealt with the emergency provided a good learning experience. Here are some of my lessons learned from American Blackout:

  • Emergencies can happen suddenly. We’ve been seeing an economic catastrophe heading our way for years and have been given lots of time to at least begin to prepare for it. With other disasters, like hurricanes, you only have a couple of days advanced warning. Certainly enough time to bug out if you choose to do so and get to a place of safety. But there are some calamites, such as blackouts and earthquakes or getting laid off from your job, that can hit you with no notice. You can’t always count on having the luxury of forewarning. You can’t start prepping when you’re up to your neck in alligators. Whatever you have prepped when one of these sudden emergencies hits is all that you’re going to have. This movie drove that point home for me. I’m doing OK in some  prepping categories, but hugely deficient in other key areas. I need to apply myself to filling in some of those gaps, because something might happen with no warning.
  • You don’t want to be in a city when it happens. City dwellers must get very tired of hearing this from their county cousins, but it’s true. It boils down to supply and demand. During a crisis in a city, the scale is going to be tipped way over on the demand side, far beyond the ability to supply. The needs will be overwhelming. Which leads to the next lesson learned…
  • Things can get very bad in a very short time. People become desperate quickly. I work as a clerk in a rural hospital. I have to ask people a lot of very personal questions and I have to try to collect any co-payments that are owed at the time of service. I’ve never gotten used to the number of people who are unemployed, or even the number of working people who can’t pay their co-payment tonight because they don’t get paid until Friday. For years I’ve heard that a lot of people are one paycheck away from poverty or homelessness. I see evidence of it all the time at my job. Right now there’s a huge safety net in the form of Medicaid, food stamps, and welfare. All of that comes from our bankrupt government by means of tax paying workers. What happens if it all dries up suddenly? Take a look at these recent news articles:
    Food Bank CEO warns of riots over major food stamp cuts
    Walmart customers riot when unable to use EBT cards

Like I said, things can get very bad, very quickly. Be prepared.

  • The likelihood of collateral accidents rises sharply, with much greater impact. American Blackout showed a lot of traffic accidents due to all the traffic signals being out of service as a result of the power outage. Losing your means of transportation during an emergency takes a lot of options off the table for you and puts you in a position of being more dependent on others at a very bad time. The movie illustrated the heightened danger of house fires because people were lighting their homes with candles. Having your house catch on fire can wipe out all of your preps and make your homeless and penniless in an instant. The movie showed one guy who only had an electric can opener, now completely useless with the power being out. He was trying to puncture the top of a can of food with a butcher knife and (predictably) cut a gash in his hand. It’s bad enough to get in a car wreck or have a house fire when you can count on your insurance company to jump in and make you whole again, but if you take them out of the equation, you’re screwed. Having a significant personal injury can be terrible even when you can get quick medical assistance, but if every hospital is overwhelmed with major trauma cases, you’re on your own. Accidents happen during the best of times. If they happen during the worst of times, even a relatively minor event might have disproportionate consequences. How are you equipped to deal with such things?
  • 911 won’t respond to your call for help. In a full-blown emergency, your house fire or medical emergency or home invasion won’t get the kind of attention from the authorities that you normally would. They will already be deluged with addressing public safety issues. It won’t take the bad guys long to figure out that the cops can’t roll for every victim who needs help. You’re going to have to fend for yourself in every way. How well are you prepared to deal with your own medical, fire, and security vulnerabilities?

Did I “enjoy” American Blackout? No. There was nothing enjoyable about it. But I hope I learned something from it.

If you missed it this past Sunday, you still have a couple more opportunities to watch or record it. National Geographic Channel is going to rebroadcast American Blackout this coming Sunday, Nov.3 at 10am, and again on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 3pm. Take notes. There may be a quiz when you least expect it.

9 Responses to Lessons Learned from American Blackout

  • Lux says:

    Like it or not, most of us are stuck in or around big cities. We will have to make the best of things in an emergency. Anyone who saw the docudrama and read this article and you are not prepared, please do yourself a favor (and everyone else- one less person out there scavenging for food and water) and don’t just think about parting with a few dollars. Go do it now.

    Here is what you can get (non perishable food) for about $80.00 at my local wal-Mart;
    40 cans of Vienna sausage
    7 big boxes of oat meal (Big, 2 pounds 12 oz.)
    27 cans of spaghetti and meat balls.
    74 Noodles and vegetables (like Cup O Noodles)
    25 cans of tuna
    80 Ramen Noodle Soup (no cup and no vegetables)
    60 bags of macaroni, 7 oz.
    13 cans of Progresso Soup
    Here is the story:

    http://beforeitsnews.com/survival/2013/10/wal-mart-prepper-food-run-2496058.html

    Isn’t your life worth more than $80.00?

    $80.00 worth of food may not be enough but it is a start and it will give you some breathing room to figure things out before going into panic mode.

    • Lux, I’m in full agreement about the majority being stuck in cities. Sometimes you just gotta do what you’ve gotta do, or be where you have to be. I know there are multitudes who, for whatever reason, are in a place they’d rather not be. I hope it works out for them.

      Nice $80 shopping list. Sticking with the basics sure can stretch a buck. Thanks for writing.

    • Hi Lux,

      I agree with Phil – great $80 shopping list. I would add an item to the top of the list though – water. I’d spend my first $10 on water (maybe $20 and make it an even $100).

      And we understand that many can’t take $100 out of their budget this week, but I’m sure you can add a case of bottled water to your cart each time you go. You can often get a case of water for under $5. Yes, we recommend storing more water in long-term containers, but everyone has to start somewhere, so “grocery store prepping” is a great way to do it. (I blogged about that at http://theapproachingdayprepper.com/grocery-store-food-prepping/)

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Hi Fleendar – Thanks for the input. 3 ways to open a can without a can opener! I prefer the last if you’ve got concrete available. Of course, I really prefer the manual can opener we’ve been using for years. Seems like every electric can opener we bought when we were first married (35 years ago) broke before we felt like we got our money’s worth out of it. So we’ve been using the manual opener for years. Thanks for sharing the tips, though because there could be times when that manual opener isn’t available.

  • Mcreel says:

    One thing I thought about watching the show and seeing everyone looking for water. First and easiest would be the toilet tank. But a larger supply is sitting right there in the water heater. May be a little harder to get to but its there. Unless you have a tank-less water heater. And I’m not sure how that works in a high rise apartment building. I like your shopping list as well. I just try to throw in a few of those things on every grocery run.

  • Mcreel says:

    Ive always had sort of a “prepper” mindset. But a couple of years ago we had a major tornado outbreak close to us. We had no real damage but was without power for 5 days or so. That really pushed me to be more proactive. We had some family that came to stay with us to ride it out. And one of the first concerns was all the frozen food that was going to ruin. So we grilled out and ate pretty good for a few days. But since then we’ve used our deep freezer more for storing ice than food. Mainly to keep things cold but also as a water backup. Instead of throwing away all of those 2 liter drink bottles we just fill them with water and freeze them. Another thing that came in handy was just a week or two before I had bought several solar powered walkway lights. Just bringing them in the house when it got dark worked really well. They were on the sale/clearance shelf at lowes or home depot. Got them for a couple bucks each not realizing how handy they would turn out to be. I don’t mean to ramble on. Im just fired up about being more self reliant these days and have a lot of ideas. One other thing. Your typical cordless telephone has 2 rechargeable batteries in it. Thanks for what you’re doing.

    • It’s amazing how a bad experience can make such a lasting impression on someone. I’m hope you never have need of any of the precautions that you’re taking, but I’m glad that you’re taking steps to be prepared if you ever need to be. Using the solar garden lights inside the house is a great idea. I think solar power will be catching on pretty strong in the years to come. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

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