The power grid is perhaps the most vulnerable piece of infrastructure in the United States. The attack on the substation in Calfornia by multiple snipes did not garner national headlines until nearly a year after the event occurred. Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) director Jon Wellnghoff grew frustrated with the lack of attention given to the substation attack and hit the news shows to create awareness about the potential doomsday scenario which could occur.
Preparedness author and law enforcement expert Michael Mabee shares his thoughts about a power grid failure and the fallout which would likely occur immediately after such an event. Mabee’s latest book, “Prepping for a Suburban or Rural Community,” argues that most prepping plans are insufficient if the power grid goes down. Like a growing number of Americans, Mabee is concerned about the nation’s overly burdened and vulnerable power grid.
In Prepping for a Suburban or Rural Community, you focus on the need for all Americans to become more self-reliant. Do you feel that being so dependent upon technology has made an entire generations of Americans weak?
Michael Mabee: We are generations removed from adversity and generations removed from self-reliance. This definitely makes us weak. Anybody who lived through the great depression is in their 80s or 90s now. For most Americans, we were born and grew up dependent on technology, specifically the power grid. We are not self-reliant – we are grid-reliant. Everything is fine as long as all our infrastructures work – food, water, sanitation, medical care and our government. But all of these infrastructures – including basic rule of law – are completely dependent on the power grid. The majority of people don’t think of it; without the electric grid, there is no food, no water, no sewers, no sanitation and quickly degrading medical care and rule of law.
We are not just weak, we are addicts. The majority of us will literally die of starvation and disease if we lose the grid long-term.
The power grid is vulnerable not only to an Earth-directed solar flare or EMP attack, but also from seasonal storms. Do you feel that a downed power grid is one of the most serious threats we face on a daily basis?
Michael: It’s not just me thinking it. Several members of Congress believe it. The Congressional EMP Commission believed it. Anybody who thinks through what would happen if the grid went down for a year will be able to draw no other conclusion but that this is a serious threat. Two things are wrong with this picture: One, our Government knows what is at stake and is doing nothing, and, two, most citizens do not know what is at stake and figure that the grid will always be there or immediately be restored; the public is generally unaware of, or apathetic about, the threats to the grid.
I have put together a comprehensive collection of Congressional hearings and government reports on grid security on my website I’m hoping that these will be helpful to those who need “government reports” to believe that there is a threat. These are also listed in the references section of the book.
How do you feel about the SHIELD Act’s ability to protect to protect the power grid, if it ever makes it out of committee?
Michael: The SHIELD Act is a start, but we have known about the threats to the grid for years and nothing has been done. Congress failed to act on the SHIELD Act before. Maybe the SHIELD Act will make it to the floor this time, maybe it won’t. Even if it does, and it passes, it will still take a long time to actually strengthen the grid. Regulations can take years once a law has passed.
We can’t wait any longer for the government to act on this; we need to take our survival into our own hands. Individuals and towns need to start thinking about this now.
Do you think that FEMA is largely ignoring their duty to share power grid emergency preparedness information with the general public?
Michael: Honestly, no. I know there are a lot of people suspicious of FEMA and the government in general. I’m not one of them. I don’t see a conspiracy; what I see is a total lack of any type of plan whatsoever. If there was a “plan” for a long-term grid down scenario, the states and towns would need to know about it. FEMA is not going to air-drop MREs and medicine to every town in America in a national catastrophe. The US Government does not have the resources to do that. I think if there was a plan, we’d know about it. There simply is no plan. We are completely unprepared for a national catastrophe.
But this failure goes past FEMA to the very top. The presidents and Congresses have known about the threats for decades. Both “red” and “blue” administrations, both “red” and “blue” Congresses. This is not a partisan issue: Our government for decades has failed to protect America from very real threats to the power grid. Both the Democrats and the Republicans have failed us. Equally well, I might add.
I would also note that the newly formed Congressional EMP Caucus is bipartisan: Trent Franks (R-Arizona) and Yvette Clarke (D-New York) are among the member of Congress on this team.
Let me digress slightly here. Preppers: please don’t think survival is a partisan issue. It is not. There are conservative preppers, liberal preppers, Christian preppers and pagan preppers. We all may have our various political views, but I will embrace anybody who believes in preparedness and protecting the country and our towns, regardless of which lever they pull in a voting booth.
Both conservatives and liberals will starve to death and die of dysentery in the exact same manner. As preppers, especially when we are talking to townspeople and trying to organize a Civil Defense plan for our town, it is best to keep politics out of it.
What if the doctor in your town is a “bleeding heart liberal anti-gun tree-hugger?” Does this mean you don’t need him in your Civil Defense Organization? What if there is an engineer in your town who happens to be able to bypass EMP fried circuits and get machines running, but he is of a different religion. Are you not going to use him in your Civil Defense Organization?
We need each other. And like brothers and sisters at the dinner table, we can disagree and argue and even yell “I hate you!” But in the school yard when somebody is picking on our little brother, we are family and we pull together. We need to think of our communities in the same way.
The downed death toll estimates stemming from a power grid failure offered by FEMA today seem entirely too low to me. The federal agency did not seem to take into account the thousands of people who would die immediately if flying during a solar flare or EMP attack take down, nor did they consider the property, human, and animal life losses from the fires which would surely break out when transformers burst into flames. What do you think would happen in our society within days of a power grid failure due to a solar flare or EMP?
Michael: Honestly, I don’t waste time arguing. It’s good enough for me that there is general agreement that the majority of Americans would die if the grid went down for a year. Does it matter if “majority” means 60 percent or 90 percent, it’s still horrible either way. The bottom line is nobody knows for sure; there are too many variables. Some scientists say planes would fall from the sky, some say they wouldn’t. Some say most modern cars wouldn’t work, some disagree. I don’t find it useful to argue over some of these things. There is plenty of horrible stuff we can all agree on. And the preps are the same.
So let’s talk about what we know. As pointed out by the Congressional EMP Commission in their 2008 “Critical National Infrastructures” report, without the electric grid, we lose, food, fuel, water, medical, sanitation, transportation. We lose manufacturing. We lose our economy. We’ll likely fall into shades of anarchy. And what this all means is that we lose the ability to support even a fraction of our present human population. We will die until the population can be supported by whatever resources we come up with in the interim. And that interim could go for a long time – years according to expert Congressional testimony.
So, to answer your question, within days the stores will run out of food and no more is coming. Back-up generators, if they work, begin to run out of fuel. Water systems fail. Sewers fail. Hospitals are without power and without medical supplies and medication. Society will begin to unravel as people get desperate. Picture the days after Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina – rule of law unravels. The difference is that in a local emergency, like a hurricane, you can get in there eventually and restore order. In a national emergency, if society is unraveling on a national scale, the federal, state and local governments will quickly become ineffective.
In a very short period of time, the majority of the country will find itself in a situation where rule of law has vanished. Desperate, starving people will do whatever they can to get resources. No place will be safe.
Civil unrest, be it from a power grid failure, pandemic, or economic collapse would cause a significant death toll after a nationwide disaster. Do you address civil unrest preparedness in your new book?
Michael: That is a major theme of my book. Without security, little else will matter. This is also why, for the most part, being a “lone wolf” prepper is not a good plan for the majority of people. I’m sorry people, but you cannot protect your family in a WROL (Without Rule of Law) world. This is a major mistake that a lot of preppers make. “I have guns and ammo and I’ll shoot anybody that tries to take my beans.” That is just not realistic; the bad guys will have guns, too. And more people than you. If you have never thought about this – or even if you have – I recommend that every prepper watch this video by YouTube’s “stankmouthcharlie.”
I love this video, and he has several others on the subject if that one wasn’t enough. This should scare you to death. Here is a guy who is unabashedly unprepared – but he doesn’t care. He’ll be all right in WROL, but as he points out, most preppers will not. Honestly, we couldn’t ask for a better prepper training video than this. Most people are not preppers. What stankmouthcharlie is talking about here is exactly what non-preppers who get desperate are going to be thinking and doing. In my opinion, he is spot on.
So what is “the long neglected PREP” that we need to focus on – thank you to Prepper Chicks for coining that phrase? It is your community. You can’t be a lone wolf for long in WROL and it will be hard, if not impossible, to pull together a community after the grid goes down.
So the solution to WROL is not to let WROL happen in the first place. Your community needs a plan for a worst-case scenario. In fact, Congress proposed a resolution advocating just this concept and that concept of a community-based civil defense is what I based this book on. Unfortunately, this resolution died in committee, but a good idea does not have to pass Congress to be a good idea. People and their towns need to prepare themselves – the cavalry will not be coming. And Congress acknowledges this!
Cyber hackers also pose a significant threat to the power grid. Do you think the Obama administration is taking a power grid hacking seriously enough?
Michael: No. And neither did the Bush Administration. And neither did the Clinton Administration, etc., etc. When it comes to grid security, Cyber, EMP, solar flare, errant tree branch or Enron Energy’s grid manipulation all of our recent administrations have failed.
Many believe that cyber security constitutes a bigger threat to the grid than EMP. Again, I don’t argue. We all agree that the grid is vulnerable. Focus on what we can do to prepare ourselves and our communities if, pick your poison, takes down the grid. So if I’m talking to somebody who does not believe that an EMP is even possible, but says cyber is a threat to the grid, great! I don’t argue. The preps are the same. I do believe that cyber security, or lack thereof, is a huge threat to the grid. And there are several Congressional hearings that talk about this. I have them on my website for those who would like to research further.
Do you feel that a possible EMP attack is possible and should be focused upon more keenly by the federal government?
Michael: I believe, as did the EMP Commission, that an EMP attack by a rogue nation, a terrorist organization or even a “friendly nation” is possible; Russia and China have the capability today. North Korea and Iran will have it soon and talk openly about an EMP strike on the US. Moreover, a terrorist organization could get ahold of a nuke. Do you really trust that Pakistan and India can’t have one stolen from them or that North Korea or Iran won’t provide one to terrorists someday? If a terrorist organization got hold of a small nuclear device, they could fire it from a container ship off US waters and create an EMP.
Okay, there are a lot of people that argue they don’t have the technical know-how … blah, blah, blah. Fine. Don’t argue. Those people believe that the sun exists, so talk about solar flares. CMEs are a scientific fact. They have happened in the past and there is a 100 percent possibility that they will happen again. The preps are the same.
What role did you professional background play in your decision to write a preparedness book?
Michael: I have always been into preparedness. I’ve been a paramedic, a cop in both the military and the federal government. So I have been into preparedness my whole adult life. What got my attention recently was a blackout from an ice storm in 2011. You might say that when the lights went off, a light popped on. I began to research grid security and began to think about what would happen if the grid went down long term. During my research, I ran across House Resolution 762 – 112th Congress. You can get it on my website to read it or it is included in my book as an appendix. This was such a brilliant idea by a bipartisan group of representatives who were frustrated by the lack of action to protect the grid. They advocated that people and their towns come up with their own civil defense plan.
It is truly unfortunate that this resolution never saw the light of day, but the resolution got me to thinking about what towns could do to prepare. The book flowed from my past experiences and the idea in House Resolution 762. I wrote this book because I have spent my entire adult life in the service of this country and its people. I feel that protecting the country and our communities is still a worthy cause.
Do you believe that mutual assistance groups (MAGS) or a general community preparedness concept offers a greater chance at survival than going it alone with just your family?
Michael: I think the holy grail of preparedness is a prepared community or town and I talk about this extensively in the book. Going it alone with just your family is a losing proposition for most people. I can’t state it more eloquently than stankmouthcharlie did in his video. When 20 people come up your driveway all that stuff you saved up is going to be their stuff.
You cannot provide meaningful security for your family alone. Nothing else is going to matter if you don’t have security. A prepared town can have a security plan that will work. An individual family will not be able to have 24/7 security and will not be able to survive long when outnumbered. Preppers: We need our communities and towns. Lone wolf is not going to cut it. A prepared family in a prepared community has a much greater chance of survival.
There are approximately 3 million prepping families in the United States. Why do you think the preparedness ranks have swelled in recent years?
Michael: There are probably many reasons. More people are aware of the catastrophic threats facing our nation, for one. I also think that 9/11 made us all realize that we are vulnerable. Most of us were not alive when Pearl Harbor was bombed. So we have lived our lives believing we were relatively safe here in the US – with the exception of a global nuclear war where we were all going to be vaporized anyway, so why worry about it? After 9/11 we were shocked; we don’t feel invulnerable anymore.
Also, I think more and more people are coming to the realization that the government will not be able to save us. We have seen FEMA fumble disasters such as Katrina, so how are we supposed to have faith that in a national catastrophe the government will have its stuff together? We can’t.
So, as I say in the book: What could possibly be worse than a nuclear war where we all die instantly? One where we don’t. That’s what we should prepare for.
How is your book different from others focused on emergency preparedness?
Michael: Prepping for a Suburban or Rural Community is different from every other prepping book out there. There are numerous books on prepping skills, what supplies to store and various aspects of individual and family preparedness. But there is no other book on starting a community civil defense program or community prepping.
Every American who is concerned about the security of the electrical grid, and especially the ones that aren’t, need to read this book. And after you read it, you need to ask your mayor, fire chief and police chief: “what is our town’s plan?” Chances are, they don’t have one.
This book should help get that conversation going. I hope that having a book with a template community civil defense plan will help communities prepare. And preppers are the ones who literally can save their towns by getting this going.
Medical prepping is one of the most complicated and sometimes frustrating aspects of emergency preparedness. What emergency medical tips can you share with readers?
Michael: This is going to be a huge problem if the grid goes down long term – and it punctuates the point that you need a community preparedness organization before the grid goes down. Most towns don’t have a hospital and you will need one. What medical equipment will be needed and should be EMP protected? What medications can be stored ahead of time? What pharmacies are in town and how are we going to prevent them from being looted – they’ll be among the first targets.
Long-term solutions are going to be needed. For example, what alternatives to common medications, e.g., antibiotics, might be available and what needs to be done ahead of time to facilitate alternatives? A few months after the grid goes down, modern medicine is going to get more and more third-world. I have a section in the book on some of the medical considerations for a civil defense organization. It is going to be a challenge and much thought needs to go into medical prepping ahead of time.
In closing I think that we as preppers need to change our paradigm. Individual and family preparedness are simply not going to be enough in a national catastrophe. Case in point: The “bug out bag.” I have these, but they are “get home bags.” After the grid goes down, there are going to be a lot of refugees. And some of these refugees are going to be preppers with their “bug out bags.” If you do not have a realistic destination, like a family farm, you are now a refugee like all the others.
As I recently said in a tweet: If your plan is to bug out to “the woods” or “the mountains” and your name is not Jeremiah Johnson, you need to rethink your plan. Wouldn’t it be a better plan to create a situation where you and your family don’t have to bug out? Where you live in a secure town that was prepared ahead of time? So the prep we are all missing is a prepared community.