The Apocalypse Cycle: Preparing for Infrastructure Failure

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Infosec Island Admin

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The Apocalypse Cycle: Confronting and Being Prepared For Infrastructure Failure

Recent events where I live have made me once again ponder my own readiness with regard to how to handle infrastructure failures that affect our technologies and society.

These same events have shown me just how clueless all too many people are about how to survive when their infrastructure goes down for any extended period of time.

The snow storm in October that brought down so many trees in the North-east created a situation cascade that devolved quickly for the populace and by listening to the news, and the police scanner I was able to see just how quickly society began to break down… With just a snowstorm that brought down the grid.

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Now 5 days into it post the snow, much of the infrastructure is still down and things are only starting to gain a semblance of normalcy in pockets of the region.

There has been a lot of angst and anger concerning the power companies and the local and state government reactions to this storm and its fallout, but, the object lesson is larger than just one snow storm in one region of the country.

Since this all began, I have seen people fighting at gas stations, heard about looting at another in a more remote area, and generally, hearing about people who were caught flat footed without any kind of backup plan for when the heat, power, and water go out.

People have become too dependent on the infrastructure (power/water/telco) and unable or unwilling to perceive the threats to it and its precarious position with regard to failure.

The recent storm and the fallout from it here in the North was bad, but, this was nothing compared to what “could” happen with a large failure to the infrastructure within the country given the right circumstances.

We were lucky… Someday we may not be.

The Apocalypse:

The scenario that happened to the Northeast is as follows:

  • An early winter storm hit the region dropping anywhere from 6-20″ of snow in a short period of time
  • The snow was heavy and wet and in combination with leaves still being on trees, caused massive tree damage
  • The tree’s lost limbs or broke completely apart, falling on power lines, telco lines, cable line,  roads, houses, etc.
  • Power lines began to fall and surges/failures caused cascade effects including complete circuit failures
  • Telco towers were also damaged as well as forced to run on backup power (batteries and generators)

From these events the infrastructure eventually failed for the bulk of the state I live in. The fallout from this then cascaded for each and every person out there who rely on the services that they provided.

Infrastructure FAIL:

Once the infrastructure had failed for large areas the following services failed for communities and individuals.

  • Water: No power means for many with wells, no water. No flush toilets, no showers, etc.
  • Heat: No power for many also means no heat. In the case of natural gas or oil, it can depend on electricity as well. Not everyone lost heat
  • Light: Obviously, no power, no electric light
  • Communications: No electricity on both ends can mean that all communications go down. In this case  hard lines went down as well as cell towers
  • Supply Chain: The lack of electricity also affected the gas station industry as many of them do not have backup generators. No gas, no mobility. The same applies for shopping outlets (grocery stores etc) as well
  • Mobility: Tree’s being down as well as potentially live power lines reduced mobility greatly. In some cases, people were boxed in to their homes from downed lines/trees as well as many roads were impassable.

All of these systems people take for granted today were directly affected by this particular storm and caused great consternation and fear for many. What made it worse was that there were no set time tables for repairs that could be expressed by the state nor the companies who’s infrastructure was damaged.

Some estimates though proclaimed it could be in excess of two weeks and given that the nights were getting cold, that many could be in danger for lack of heat. Basically, the infrastructure was in a FAIL state and the cascade effects from it being down began to snowball.

Human Nature:

Once the failures had occurred, many who were without power, heat, water, etc were ok for a short time. However, once the cold really began to set in and the days until restoration became longer, people began to freak out.

Those with generators began to ran out of gas, but could not get any more gas because the stations in the area failed to have generators and those who did, ran out of gas quickly. With the supply chains beginning to fail by being taxed because of demand, it became compounded with the fact that roads and highways were also blocked due to storm damage.

This is where the human nature began to show its ugly side. Because there was little gas to be had, and people were waiting in long lines, frustration began to set in. Tempers flared and in some cases, looting and fights occurred. The human gene is a selfish one, and with that said, people began to roll back the evolutionary clock, fighting for their lives (perceived) in this situation.

Most of this though, could have been easily avoided had the people taken the time to prepare themselves for such occurrences as well as have a mindset that the government and the infrastructure may not always be there when they need it.

We are all on our own in many ways…

Of course, if human nature were a bit more fluid in the area of cooperation, perhaps people would have to freak out less and come together, but unfortunately, this is just not the case with many.

Preparedness:

So, with all of the above said, I would like to remind people to take some time and actually PLAN a bit for these incidents. As our lives become more and more dependant on the state and the infrastructure, we need to take a step back and say “What if” a bit more and plan accordingly for our own welfare. Here are some factors to take into account.

Sheltering In Place:

When disasters occur, we may not be able to escape them. If there is a tsunami or hurricane coming at us, we just may not be able to leave at all. Everyone else will be doing the same thing and you have all seen it I am sure in movies where the roads are blocked and there is no way out. If this is the case, well, all you can do is hunker down and hope to survive.

The same can be said about situations like the one the Northeast just had. If you did not HAVE to be out on the roads during the storm and just after, then stay home! It’s called “sheltering in place” You have your provisions, you have your house/apartment/bunker and you stay put! It is safer to be in place and prepared than it is to be out like a chicken in a rain storm looking straight up and drowning. Never mind you getting hurt, but you may also be placing the lives of others (EMS/FIRE/POLICE) at risk because of your stupidity.

So, have provisions in your home for at least a week if not more. I would suggest enough for at least two really, just in case

  • Non perishable food (MRE’s)
  • Batteries
  • Potable Water
  • Firewood if you have a stove/fireplace
  • Gas stoves (camp stoves) and fuel
  • A radio
  • Candles
  • Medical supplies (including any meds you take)
  • Matches/Fire-steel
  • Flash lights and LED lanterns
  • Two way communications (HAM radio)
  • A generator and hook-ups for the house

All of these things you can just store and have in place when you need them should the time arise. Batteries, food, and the like can go bad after some time, so insure that you rotate them if they are out of date. A little diligence can make life easier when the time comes.

Bugging Out:

IF the zombie apocalypse comes, then you will likely eventually have to “bug out” This means to leave the shelter and seek out other locations. This also means that you will need to have a “bug out bag” The would entail the same items above but with some twists:

  • Non perishable food (MRE’s)
  • Batteries or Solar charger
  • Potable Water & Filtration kit
  • Firewood if you have a stove/fireplace
  • Gas stoves (camp stoves) and fuel
  • A radio
  • Meds (including any meds you take regularly)
  • Matches/Fire-steel
  • Flash lights and LED lanterns
  • Knives/Axe (A survival knife would be ideal)
  • Two way communications (HAM radio)
  • Clothes
  • A weapon (guns)
  • Tent/shelter materials
  • Portable med kit (EMS style complete)
  • Binoculars

I am sure there are many more things that people can think of, but, this is a basics list for extreme emergencies that require you to be mobile quickly and prepared to live rough. The key here is also that you need to be travelling light. Ounces = pounds and pounds equal slowing you down. Keep it simple and you will be more able to be mobile even on two feet. All of these things should be prepared and loaded into a bag (backpack/rucksack/etc) and in place for emergencies. Some people actually have redundant bags (one in the car, one in the house) should they be away from home when things go down.

It never hurts to be prepared.. Think Boy Scouts.

Mental and Physical Concerns:

Ok, so you have the supplies in place for either staying put or bugging out but, you need to be thinking about how you and others handle the stress of situations like these. From what I have seen of the reaction to this latest storm and fallout, I have to say that way too many people were just unprepared. Of course, if you are not prepared (with supplies) then you certainly are going to be placing much more stress mentally on yourselves and your family. By not having things in place, you basically stress yourselves out trying to get the things you need. However, if you have the supplies and a little know how, you can easily weather things out.

Situations like these also cause physical stress on people. The clean up and upkeep alone in some cases here have caused people to have heart attacks. In other instances, the people’s inability to comprehend the nature of Co2 has lead to at least 4 deaths in my state. It can be tough to be sheltering either in place or bugging out and you have to be ready to handle the stress both mentally and physically. It is best to keep yourself in the best shape you can as well as perform mental checks on yourself and others while sheltering to insure you don’t have a breakdown in either respect.

The Long Haul:

Overall, this incident in the Northeast was not the “big one” that some predict. It was inconvenient really, but, if you had supplies you could deal with it easily enough.

However, what if something like an EMP burst took out the grid and the infrastructure? How would you handle that? The potential for societal collapse would be high in a short amount of time.. What then?

What I’m saying is this.. Prepare for the small events but keep an eye toward the what if’s of a long term one. If you can handle the short term, there is more likelihood that you will be able to come through a longer stint without completely melting down…

Meanwhile… Just watch all of the others who don’t have a plan or supplies run rabid in the streets.. Kinda like zombies.. but looking for a can of gas instead of brains.

Play it smart…

K.

Cross-posted from Krypt3ia

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Chris Blask Perhaps trends towards decentralization will evolve with this dynamic. While still small, local/home electrical generation has gained enough momentum that even today a total grid loss would have some areas or homes lit in some cases, for example. SmartGrid V3 (given that we don't have V1 well defined yet) might be designed for a more resilient mesh rather than a fragile grapevine.

It seems possible that beyond the short-term (sure, that reads "decades") the grapevine structure of our Necessity Delivery Systems might be replaced with something that looks more like steel wool.
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