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San Francisco grid failure offers preview of EMP threat

For seven hours last Friday, San Francisco was in chaos. A fire in a utility company substation caused a power outage that knocked out traffic lights, cable cars, elevators and computer systems.

At least 88,000 Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers were left without power for most of the workday.

Employees in the city’s financial district had to go home for the day as they found themselves unable to do business. Many retailers shut their doors as well, unable to accept credit card payments using their electronic card readers. Major traffic jams plagued the city as motorists were forced to treat every intersection as a four-way stop.

However, there were no reported deaths or major injuries associated with the outage, and all power was restored to customers within eight hours.

But what if next time is different? What if next time, the power goes out not for seven hours, but seven days? What if it goes out not merely in part of San Francisco, but the entire Western half of the United States?

That scenario is very plausible in the increasingly dangerous world in which we live, according to energy expert Jeffrey Yago.

“Hopefully you realize that this government just does not have the resources, expertise or leadership to feed and shelter millions of people if a real disaster strikes, and there have been multiple examples to drive this point home,” Yago warns.

“Aging power systems, malicious computer hacking, decommissioned power plants that could not meet new EPA regulations, grid terrorist attacks, and the increased risk of an EMP all but guarantee future power outages will last much longer and occur more frequently.”

If Americans can’t rely on the government during an extended power outage, what are they to do? Yago recommends replacing grid-powered devices with battery-powered appliances. In his book “Lights On: The Non-Technical Guide to Battery Power When the Grid Goes Down,” he details many ways to use battery-powered devices for lighting, communication, refrigeration, cooking, pumping water, bathing, medical needs, security, bugging out and much more.

Although Yago is a licensed professional engineer and certified energy professional with more than 40 years of professional experience in the energy and emergency power field, he wrote his book for the layman. He walks readers through all the steps necessary to install and operate their battery-powered appliances so they will not have to panic when the electrical grid goes down.

Michael Maloof, a former senior security policy analyst in the office of the secretary of defense, estimates a large city like San Francisco could only survive two or three days at most without electricity before devolving into chaos. All public transportation would be gone, as would the ability to refuel cars. The grocery stores would likely run out of food after three days.

“It can be rather devastating in very short order, just in a matter of days, not weeks and months,” Maloof told WND.

In his book “A Nation Forsaken,” Maloof warned of the threat an EMP, in its various forms, poses to the vulnerable American power grid. While EMPs can be man-made, they can also arise from natural causes, such as solar flares and accompanying coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

NASA observed a large coronal mass ejection from a sunspot late on April 18, according to SpaceWeather.com. If CMEs can take between 42 and 208 hours to reach the Earth, as NASA says, this particular CME could have passed near Earth on the morning of April 21, at the very time power went out in San Francisco.

San Francisco was not the only American city to experience a power outage that morning. In New York City, power went down at one subway station at 7:20 a.m., and later that morning, across the country, power went out at Los Angeles International Airport and many other locations around the city.

Maloof acknowledged the possibility extreme space weather may have been behind the widespread outages. He said power failures have a way of spreading throughout the electrical grid.

“Once something goes down in one area, there is a cascading effect to other areas within the surrounding area. So you shut down power in one area, it could affect power outage in contiguous areas,” he said. “So it’s conceivable that you had a cascading effect within the cities as a result of the solar flare, and they’re in the right latitude for where that flare could have hit approximately. And they’re all on approximately the same latitude, which makes it so very interesting.”

The ever-present threat of solar flares and other extreme space weather, combined with the threat of a weaponized EMP from a hostile nation such as North Korea, leads Maloof to believe EMP defense should be one of the U.S.’s top national security priorities. However, the Trump administration has not yet taken steps to harden the U.S. power grid against a possible EMP. It has not even declared it one of its top priorities.

“So you want something tangible done?” Maloof asked. “Let’s get something tangible done today, now. The Trump administration needs to declare EMP a very high national security priority. Just forget about Syria, forget about Yemen, even North Korea, forget about them. Let’s tighten up here first; then we can go play outside.”

Maloof said some of Trump’s advisers are taking his attention away from the domestic priorities on which he was elected – jobs, infrastructure and immigration – and instead focusing on regime change in Syria and other places.

“We’re in a conundrum right now internationally,” he said. “What are we going to do in Yemen? What are we going to do in Syria? What are we going to do in North Korea? And that’s where all the attention is focused. It’s not on infrastructure development or working on hardening our industries from EMP. We should be doing that. We’re not.

“We should be working on things that are tangible for the United States. EMP hardening is a tangible consideration, and it isn’t happening.”