Can the US Survive a 'Catastrophic' Power Outage?

Can the US Survive a 'Catastrophic' Power Outage?
AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Recently, the President's National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) examined the ability of the U.S. federal government to respond to and recover from a catastrophic power outage striking a large swath of the nation.

What is a catastrophic power outage? It's a power outage longer than a few days or even weeks and that is, according to the NIAC, “a magnitude beyond modern experience, exceeding prior events in severity, scale, duration, and consequence.”

What could cause such an outage? It could be a severe natural disaster combined with cyber and physical attacks, or an electromagnetic event such as a coronal mass ejection. Any such event could cause a long-term outage.

Through interviews with leaders in the utility industry and other related experts, the report found that existing plans to restore power were inadequate to deal with a catastrophic power outage.

The NIAC concluded that considerable public and private action is required to mitigate the risks associated with any such outage. Such a power outage could cause cascading failures in other essential services including water and wastewater management, communications, transportation, healthcare, and financial services — all of which are critical to public health and safety and our national and economic security.

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