It’s Not the Voltage That Will Kill You, It’s the Grid

Since we’ve survived the most discombobulated Presidential first 100 days in the modern era, I thought it might be wise to focus on an important item that’s being swept under the “news” rug. It seems that the print media only has the stomach for anything other than after-the damage-is-done. So it’s very important to be mindful that some of the U.S.’s real problems, (aside from the slow moving, fascist coup) not being discussed, much less addressed, by our part-time GOP government, (126 days a year, most of which are spent accepting “gifts” from lobbyists, special interest groups, or they’re phone banking for dollars).

After all, the mind trust in the White House can’t quite grasp just how useless a wall of any sort along our southern border with Mexico would be…(I’ve taken the liberty of mapping out the Mission Impossible task that would confront any bad hombres confounded by a wall), so why bother? 

How much careful consideration could’ve gone into into putting failed flamingo dancer (I’m Smart Now Cuz I Wears Me Some No-Lens Glasses) Prick Perry in charge of not only our nuclear arsenal but our nation’s most glaring vulnerability…outside of climate change turning our coastlines into modern day replicas of Atlantis?

Our pathetic, mid-20th century electric grid is just one of our national disgraces. By modern standards, we are being embarrassed by every other non third-world country on the planet.

And as the majority party in Congress and the White House prepare to propagandize more and more about border walls and deny overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change threatens the country/world, look at the difference in how we get essential power to homes and business vs other countries who have politicians who genuinely care about the safety and welfare of their citizens rather than padding their own wallets.

Australia/Germany/England

United States of America-“Superpower”?

It’s impossible to overemphasize how vital the US power grid is to American society and its economy. Every critical infrastructure, from communications to defense to potable clean water, is built on it. Businesses from manufacturing to high tech, Wall St. to raising chickens is completely dependent on it.

And the dependence on the grid continues to grow exponentially as more machines get connected to the Internet, whether it’s our homes, communications, or businesses. If an enemy wants to bring us down, the electric grid we depend on so completely is target zero.

report last year prepared for the President and Congress emphasized the vulnerability of the grid to a long-term power outage, saying “For those who would seek to do our Nation significant physical, economic, and psychological harm, the electrical grid is an obvious target.” Well duh.

The damage to Americans, their businesses and family futures from an extended regional, much less national, power outage would be extensive, as millions of people discovered after just one hurricane–Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The Department of Energy said this year that cybersecurity was one of the top challenges facing the power grid, which is exacerbated by the interdependence between the grid and water, telecommunications, transportation, and emergency response systems that will be stretched further as climate change brings more and more extreme weather to the U.S. It is the threat of cyberattack on the grid that keeps the US Department of Defense and Trump’s own Secretary of Defense sleepless.

Imagine the Southwest or Southeast powerless for all of July or August. Tens of thousands could die. Billions of dollars would be lost in wages, grocery inventories, retail. Same would be true with the Northeast or Midwest for all of February. It would be the Mother of All Recessions. Distribution networks, airlines, trucking, would all  be in chaos. All because one political party wants to ensure that renewable energy doesn’t get a foothold against coal, nuclear, or fossil fuels that generate our life-preserving electricity. Gasoline, water, food become useless. All while the GOP governing party can seem to worry about  are important issues like which bathroom we can use.

Making their respective countries safe from enemy physical or cyber-attack are paramount for most countries and power is the constant in a sea of variables. 40% of all German homes are now totally self-sustaining for power through solar or other renewable power. New construction is required to be self-sustaining. The business sector is also roughly 40% self-sustaining with manufacturing approaching 50%. This, of course, means homes and businesses do not require outside sources to keep their food supply from spoiling or factories from running, nor expensive generators that run on fossil fuels that can’t be acquired without…you guessed it, gasoline pumps reliant on electricity.

Australia is coming along with about one-half saturation of self-sufficient homes and businesses. The U.S. and its vaunted exceptionalism, of course, comes in anywhere from 10th to 25th depending on unit of measure, (i.e., per capita, per household, etc.).

Their ultimate goal is for every home and business to be totally independent from everyone else supplying them with electric power.

U.S. Grid Operation, on the other hand, depends on systems—called Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA)—that monitor and regulate the physical framework. Special computers, known as programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are utilized for the grid were originally designed by the automobile industry, but PLCs are now universal in manufacturing, the power grid and other areas of critical infrastructure.

One of the most well-known industrial cyberattacks involved these PLCs: the attack, discovered in 2010, was on the Iranian centrifuges they were using to enrich uranium known as the Stuxnet computer worm.

Stuxnet took over the PLCs controlling the centrifuges, and lead to the destruction of many. These new forms of malware can not only shut things down but can alter their function and permanently damage industrial equipment.

Securely upgrading PLC software and securely reprogramming PLCs has been a known area of great of concern for years.

The growth of smart grid which overlays computing and communications to the power grid has created many more access points for penetrating into the grid computer systems.

So the concern is growing even faster with the Internet of Things (IoT), because there are many different types of sensors multiplying in unimaginable numbers. A system attack could be disguised as something as simple as a large number of ostensible customers lowering their thermostat settings in a short period of time on a hot day.

Defending the power grid means defending roughly 3,200 utilities, all of which operate a portion of the electricity grid, which are individual networks but interconnected.

The Department of Energy’s Cybersecurity Risk Information Sharing Program (CRISP) (you know, the agency run by high-stepping Rick Perry and his new “smart” glasses”) and the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) programs utilities who voluntarily share information, but it would be relatively easy to circumvent the protocols given the number of people involved.

But the gravity of the situation really comes to the forefront when you realize that the Department of Defense has created an entirely new command to address cyberthreats, the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM). Now in addition to land, sea, air, and space, there is a fifth command: cyber.

The latest version of The Department of Defense’s Cyber Strategy has as its third strategic goal, “Be prepared to defend the US homeland and US vital interests from disruptive or destructive cyberattacks of significant consequence.”

There is already a well-established theater of operations where significant, destructive cyberattacks against SCADA systems have taken place.

In a 2012 report, the National Academy of Sciences called for more research to make the grid more resilient to attack and for utilities to modernize their systems to make them safer. Indeed, as society becomes increasingly reliant on the power grid and an array of devices are connected to the internet, security and protection must be a high priority.

All of which would not be necessary if we simply started retrofitting homes and businesses with self-sustaining, independent, power sources for each building…you know, like the smart countries are doing.

Look, I get why many Trump supporters have lost faith in Washington and want to just “shake things up.” There are a helluva lot of progressives who are sick and tired of the way the Democratic Party operates as well. When you shake things up with a studied plan and a clear idea of what you want to achieve, you can open new pathways to solving old problems. But when you shake things up, guided by one-liners, innuendo, lack of knowledge and no moral compass, you can cause enormous instability and start wars with friends as well as enemies.

Making America Greater doesn’t mean doing things the same way they were done 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Lotus 1-2-3 was the spreadsheet program that dominated the accounting business world in the 1980s and occupied a 10-story building in Boston, Massachusetts as its world headquarters. Where is it now? In the toilet. Gone. Forgotten.

Australia and Germany have been acting for years to eliminate the threat of a power grid interruption as a means to cripple their countries and to protect their citizens. In the US, politicians cheer and pat themselves on the back at the prospect of leaving 24 million Americans without affordable health care, much less a safe power grid.

Funny how other countries manage single-payer healthcare, AND profit-making socialist/capitalist hybrid economies, can figure out how to work together for common goals instead of a major political party worrying about every possible way to save millionaires and billionaires from paying their fair share of taxes for the good of everyone, and consistently figuring out how best to ensure EVERY citizen can and should vote, but the U.S., the supposed leader of democracy cannot.

There are a LOT of bottlenecks creating a very dangerous situation for our country right now that no military prowess can fix. And it’s all being exacerbated by the GOP’s focus on rigging the system to stay in power, and a broadcast news media more intent on making money than serving the good of the country.

Our 1950s style, suspended-over-land electric grid being breached–because it isn’t politically expedient for one political party to accept proven, viable, technology that already exists since it doesn’t fit their political mythology–is the one thing that could take us back to the Dark Ages overnight…literally. And the alarm bells get louder with each click of yours, mine, and our electric meters.

Harvey Gold