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Power grid threats and contingency plans…

April 8, 2009

It’s no secret that reports from the media can ramp up one’s stress level beyond the day-to-day push to get things accomplished, on time and under budget.  However, the worst-case scenario report regarding cyber spies’ recent penetration of the U.S.’ electric grid (see http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/04/08/national/main4928223.shtml) is enough to prompt one to assess their disaster preparedness measures – “just in case”…

In an effort to transcend figuring out how many batteries and bottles of water one has on hand, my thoughts turned to all of the nebulous dependencies woven into the daily existences of the average household.  Some questions I considered included:

  • What about banking? Do I have access to or have enough small bills to utilize if systems were down for 3-7 days?
  • What about school? Does my university have a contingency plan or communication plan if electric grids are disrupted thereby taking down internet connectivity and access?
  • What about family communication systems? Many folks are used to texting each other or sending email and have fallen out of the habit of communicating by phone – or at least communicating by a phone that actually plugs into a wall jack!  Would we know how to communicate with each other?  Do we have an established “meet” point?
  • Alternative means of survival – I grew up in a very rural area and was fortunate to have parents who taught me how to utilize my natural resources if necessary (this means cooking on an open fire, living super “lean” and conserving resources available, etc.) but how many others would be caught unprepared?
  • What about the effects on society? One only has to look to recent history with Katrina and other similar disasters to see that when resources are scarce, humans react in unpredictable ways.

I decided the situation warranted a SWOT analysis of sorts and here are the results:

  • Strengths – we live generally within 2-3 hours drive time from most family, I have “skills” as mentioned above, I am making preparations now “just in case”.
  • Weaknesses – Haven’t refined and communicated contingency plans, haven’t finished fleshing out basic provisions, don’t have alternative source of radio or TV to get news, etc.
  • Opportunities – Can develop and complete checklist relatively quickly, can develop time line for “refresh” of resources (say 6 months out), can start thinking ahead for other ways to handle emergencies that are proactive rather than reactive.
  • Threats – I am relatively unprepared if an emergency arises one minute from now.  The stress here is more mental than anything and knowing what to do based upon the issues identified above will cause me to think about utilizing other “technologies” available to me in advance rather than being reactive.

On the larger horizon I see that my studies in technology management have not only heightened my sensitivity to vulnerabilities promulgated by society’s dependence upon technology, but also I have become very sensitive to the inevitable outcomes of what could possibly happen when those technologies are abruptly made unavailable.  I am a huge techie and thrive on utilizing technology in every aspect of my life that I can, however, I will admit that when considering scenarios brought about by lack of technology I’m inclined to freak out a little.  What this requires me to do is to think on more than one level with regard to technology: a basic level that utilizes technology as the means to cook without gas or electricity and a more sophisticated level that allows me to use technology daily to simplify my life.

Whether or not my life is really “simplified” is a topic for another day.

Taking a cue from organizations and their disaster recovery preparedness efforts, it would seem that these skills are highly transferable to our personal lives, yet I wonder how many of us really do a deep dive with regard to disaster preparedness and follow through in a systematic and logical fashion the way we would in our professional lives.  Personally speaking, I try hard not to be as “Type A” about every single little detail in my personal life but when faced with the possible scenario as reported above, I can’t help but come to the realizing that I do in fact have the training and skills to devise a workable and sound plan but I don’t always have the stamina or time to implement such efforts in my personal life.  Nonetheless, keeping an eye on external threats as identified in my personal SWOT analysis is an obligation which I feel I have to take seriously – not overreact – but recognize and be proactive in addressing.

Balance – it mocks me.

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