The video above shows the full pilot episode of Revolution, a TV show on NBC. It examines what happens after a catastrophic blackout. The characters have to confront a world without electricity. Watch the video, then read on and leave your comments.
Blackout: What Are the Odds?
How plausible is this blackout scenario? It depends on how the power would go out.
As Gun Digest reported earlier, a solar storm could cause problems for North America's power grid. Here's a quote from the Weather Channel about such an event:
Some U.S. experts estimate as much as a 7 percent chance of a superstorm in the next decade, which seems a slight risk, but the effects would be so wide-ranging — akin to a major meteorite strike — that it has drawn official concern.
Although the likelihood of this kind of geomagnetic storm, like a big hit from a space rock, is extremely low, its impact would be great. By comparison, the probability of a large meteorite hitting Earth is at some fraction of 1 percent.
It's a serious threat, but odds are still in humanity's favor. What about a man-made attack? Could an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack cause a continent-wide blackout?
First, understand how an EMP attack would work. The method commonly referred to is HEMP, or high-altitude electromagnetic pulse. Here's a good rundown on it from Discover magazine:
The idea of HEMP has been around probably since the 1950s, when scientists noticed that nuclear bomb blasts gave off intense bursts of gamma rays into the atmosphere. The latter collide with atoms in the atmosphere, knocking loose a whole lot of electrons, an effect known as Compton scattering. When they reach the upper atmosphere, the electrons don't have anything to hit, so they spiral around the Earth's magnetic field lines. The result is a very brief — about 10 nanoseconds — pulse of extremely high-voltage electromagnetic energy that's capable of damaging computers, landline telephone systems, power grids, radio transmitters and anything else on the ground that contains circuitry.
Back in the '50s, the EMP threat pertained mostly to the Soviet Union. Now it's terrorists using newer EMP technologies. The following quote is from a 2008 hearing at the Committee on Armed Services in the United States House of Representatives. It discussed in great detail the threat posed by an EMP attack. (You can download the transcript in its entirety here, courtesy of the from the Federation of American Scientists.)
Therefore, terrorists or state actors that possess one or a few relatively unsophisticated nuclear-armed missiles may well calculate that instead of, or in addition to, destroying a city or a military base, they could obtain the greatest economic-political-military utility from conducting an EMP attack, while experiencing the lowest risk of being intercepted or otherwise stopped before they are able to detonate the weapon.
How likely is this to occur? The transcript doesn't lay it out in clear terms. It presents a number of current events issues and scenarios. It also explores how relatively easy it'd be to protect against such an attack. Read the document for full details. Warning: You might not sleep well tonight.
What Would Happen in a Blackout
What would happen if a massive blackout hit? The most widespread blackout in history happened this year in India. Twice the population of the United States – 600 million – was affected. Here's a video report:
What would have happened to those 600 million people had the power not come back on? Frustration would boil over into anger. Just watch this video from Gun Digest‘s article about the big Northeast blackout of 2012.
DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG
It only took a little more than a week for people to start to lose their rationality. It only gets worse as time passes. In fact, that EMP hearing from 2008 describes a loss of 90% of the United States population after one year of a blackout.
However, there is some better news on the next page.
We had about a 12-hour blackout in our community. Things were a mess. Stop lights didn’t work, no lights, of course, no water because the water pumps didn’t work, restaurant freezers melted and ruined food causing untotaled damage to restaurant owners, and so on and so on…… And that was only in 12 hours. Oh, btw, we were told corded phones would work. Ours worked for a while, then went out. Of course, all other phones didn’t work, except a little bit on the cell phone, especially texting, but that was hit and miss also. The only communication device that worked was ham radio, and then only on the handhelds (HTs) unless you had a battery or generator for your desk radio in your house. The ham radio in the autos worked if the vehicle’s battery didn’t go out.