Whenever the left-wing media wants to conjure up an image of Republican failure and incompetence, they point to Hurricane Katrina and the days it took the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond in any effective manner.
Forget for the moment the fact that President Bush and his team were hampered in their efforts to provide emergency assistance by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Bianco (both Democrats), and the fact that New Orleans actually had plans to evacuate the city in the event of a major hurricane that Nagin failed to implement.
Katrina was an afternoon thunderstorm compared to what could hit the United States in the near future.
After three days of table-top exercises last week in and around Washington, DC to simulate the impact of a major solar event or a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, officials and experts concluded that our nation is woefully unprepared to handle the aftermath of such an event. And unlike a major hurricane, our nation’s leaders would have just minutes of warning before it occurred, making evacuation of vulnerable populations impossible.
As I explained in last week’s column, experts have been warning for some time that a major geomagnetic event or a nuclear EMP attack would mean “TEOTWAWKI” – The End Of The World As We Know It.
But the table-top exercises conducted last week under the auspices of National Defense University and the state of Maryland’s Emergency Management Agency, provided dramatic new evidence of our nation’s woeful lack of awareness and preparedness for handling the aftermath of such an event.
“This is the potential catastrophic incident,” said Michael Fisher, the head of Maryland’s Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). “It’s not a snow storm, it’s not a rain event, it’s not a building that had some bricks fall off when the earth shook. This is a potential catastrophic event that will change life as we know it.”
Fisher cited the panic that gripped the city of Baltimore over the summer during the mild earthquake that hit Virginia, several hundred miles to the south. To counter the hysteria, MEMA used Twitter, Facebook, radio, and television to calm the population, and things gradually returned to normal.
But in the event of a major geomagnetic event or an EMP attack that takes down the power grid, none of those means of communicating with the public will be available.
“After a few days, not only are folks going to begin to take matters into their own hands, but the depth and breadth of our first responders – that system is going to fail, also,” he said.
In other words, there will be no going back to the way things were before. The snow will not melt, the sun won’t come out, the flood waters won’t recede, and help will not be on the way. Americans will be on their own, just as during the days of the Wild West.
One of the most dramatic impacts of a major geomagnetic event or a nuclear EMP will be on law and order. “Police officers have told us they would just go home to take care of their own families,” said Dr. Richard Andres, an analyst with the National Defense University.
MEMA’s Mike Fisher said his agency needs to start planning today to identify emergency supplies, back-up generators, and to organize staging areas for police and fire fighters who will have no means of communicating with each other beyond the human voice.
Even if first responders manage to locate food supplies and make them available at select locations thanks to back-up generators after a week or two of no power, citizens won’t be able to use their credit cards because the banking system will still be down. “So keep some money in the sock drawer,” Fisher advised.
One of the table top exercises gathered experts who gamed what would happen if the 300 large generators that form the backbone of the national power grid went down, an event many analysts believe is possible. This is the “catastrophic” scenario that the power industry and those lobbying on behalf of expensive cyber security programs don’t want you to imagine.
David P. Hunt, an analyst with CRA, Inc., a Beltway security consulting firm, described the inability of the utilities and national command authorities to recover after such an event.
Industry representatives who participated in the simulations acknowledged the difficulties of “cold starting” power plants and the need for continuous power at nuclear power plants to maintain cooling of spent fuel ponds, Hunt said. Further complicating their efforts would be the lack of communications, since telephone and even radio networks would go down along with the grid, making it nearly impossible to localize back-up generators and the fuel needed to run them. This would lead to multiple “Fukushima” style events, with spent nuclear fuel irradiating large portions of the nation.
But if multiple nuclear meltdowns weren’t bad enough, the “cascading effects” of a prolonged shut down of the national power grid might prove irreparable to society as a whole.
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