Lights Out: A Cyber Attack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath is a cautionary tale.
Ted Koppel's intensely researched book presents a scenario that trumps dystopian novels about zombies and plague--because this threat is real.
I've been pondering this review for over a week. If a cyber attack on the electric grid resulted in widespread, lengthy outages, the consequences would be catastrophic. Koppel's interviews with experts in many fields, governmental and private industry, make this clear. Many believe it is a when, not an if, possibility.
I was impressed at how readable the book is. The first section gives a lot of technical information that was sometimes a little slow, but related some of the problems in enough detail to make things clear--like the aging transformers, the expense of obtaining new ones and/or backups, how long it takes for an order for a new transformer to be built and delivered, the problems with transporting them.
A few of the consequences of extended power outages (a week, a month, or more): communication is difficult, if not impossible, as cell phones run down and can't be recharged; no computers will be working--and what government agency or private business doesn't run on computer today; no running water and the concurrent problem of sanitation; food supplies and pharmacy stock can't be re-supplied; medical machines down; fuel runs out. Our society depends on this infrastructure.
More than one review of the book has commented on the lack of solutions to the problem of a lengthy power outages. True. For most of us as individuals, there is not a lot that we can do to prepare for a really lengthy black out. Hopefully, the book will stimulate more thought and more action on the part of governments--local, state, and national.
I enjoy dystopian novels, but Lights Out is not a novel and is thoroughly documented. I found it both interesting and informative.
Since November is nonfiction month, Lights Out might be a good nonfiction choice. A lot of blogs have been pairing fiction and nonfiction books. An interesting fiction pairing for Lights Out is One Second After by William R. Fortschen. While the book is about the consequences of an EMP attack and Lights Out is about a cyber attack on the electric grid--the effect is the same, loss of every technology that depends on electricity.
I read it in 2013, and it gave me a lot to think about. Here is an excerpt from the book description of One Second After:
"Months before publication, One Second After has already been cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read, a book already being discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a truly realistic look at a weapon and its awesome power to destroy the entire United States, literally within one second. It is a weapon that the Wall Street Journal warns could shatter America. In the tradition of On the Beach, Fail Safe and Testament, this book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future...and our end."
If One Second After was "cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read," maybe Lights Out will result in some action.
Sidebar: One of the consequences of a lengthy outage in a city like New York is that there is no way to evacuate that many people. Yet there will be movement of millions of people, refugees leaving heavily populated areas. To get an idea of what that might be like, think of the Syrian refugees flooding small European towns and the challenges of caring for them.
Links to Interviews/Articles about Lights Out:
Chicago Tonight The Washington Post PBS CBS News
Nonfiction. Oct. 2015. Print length: 290 pages.