Thursday, November 15, 2012

New York Times covers new NAS report on the long-lasting hardships that could come from even "smaller" attacks on the power grid


I’ve talked a lot lately about how a stable infrastructure is crucial for the expressive individualism that most of us expect, but which can become difficult to sustain indefinitely. 

Today (Thursday, November 15, 2012), Matthew L. Wald reported (on p. A23 of The New York Times) on a just-released National Academy of Sciences paper that maintains that smaller-scale terrorist attacks could be devastating to the US power grid.  The title of the article is “Terrorist attack on power grid could cause broad hardship, report says”, link here

I discussed the details in a review of the paper on my Books blog today. 

In addition to what is detailed in the paper, review and NYTImes article, I would wonder how Israel hardens its power grid (again, Gaza and the West Bank are back in the news tonight).  It would seem as if the US power industry needs to take some lessons from that well-prepared country in how to make its infrastructure much more robust.

It seems that our power industry has indeed, been allowed (through short-term profit taking) to drift into a state where it is not prepared for some really huge threats that can happen, including solar storms, EMP attacks (still considered very remote by the defense mainstream but not  ignored by Newt Gingrich and some other conservatives), but also smaller, more conventional attacks that can do more damage than we had thought (although the issue has been widely debated  [in homeland security circles] specifically for nuclear plants, but not in a way that addresses the transformer replacement problem). 

In my own thinking, it is contemplation of my own stake in a possible disaster that sends me back into understanding old-fashioned socially conservative thought.  A huge calamity, whether brought about by war (and enemy, whether a rogue totalitarian state or an asymmetric entity) or overwhelming natural disaster (like a solar superstorm), removes a lot of the value and “personal power” of money and puts everyone in the same boat (a dangerous idea that incites revolutions, as in the NBC series). Calamity, if big and universal enough, is the great equalizer, and weak social capital becomes itself a secondary security risk - a compound notion that helped inspire the Maoist Cultural Revolution in the 1960s). People are forced to relate to others whom they had originally deemed unworthy of personal attention.  It’s a bad thing especially for socially isolated people, who suddenly find they are of no use in a world where everything they were good at has been taken away from them.  No wonder there is this idea of not trusting treasures on earth! Ultimately, it redirects ideas about marriage and family or community responsibility as something that people must share regardless of choice and tends to encourage authoritarian control of sexual morality, as a matter of community or tribal survival.  We see this now in many parts of the world.  It can happen here. The Amish may be on to something. 

Yet, all of this can be avoided, I hope, if we take better care of our infrastructure. "Folks", this is the most pressing national security issue that we have.  It's only a matter of time before it crushes it if we don't fix this. 

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