Best way to shut down the blogosphere, by far . . .

At the risk of sounding painfully naive, here's a worrisome thought:

Without electricity, the country would shut down.
So would the blogosphere, which is an even worse prospect. Every time I've experienced a power failure, I am unable to blog or read blogs, and it's been very annoying. In the event of a national emergency, this would be more than annoying -- especially if shutting down the Internet was the whole idea. (A couple of years ago, an ordinary power shutdown screwed up ebay big time. Imagine what could be done intentionally.)

I don't mean to make light of this, nor do I mean to get all greenie weenie about "alternative energy sources," but wouldn't it be nice to have solar backup or some other redundancy factor built into the Internet?

The technology would seem to be available. Solar powered computers like these strike me as a no-brainer:

All of the Solar Utilities Network's web pages are built and maintained on a solar-powered computer. Why? Because, just between us (don't let them hear) we don't trust our beloved local electrical monopoly to supply us with an unbroken stream of within-spec electrons …and NEITHER SHOULD YOU.

We use an industrial strength uninterruptible power supply because out here at the end of the grid, power outages are so common that we would lose work a couple of dozen times a year. In the last two years, we would have lost two weeks of work to power outages. Our power company is a little more candid than most, and they admit that the situation will get worse, because they have had to defer maintenance and cut crews to keep between the rock of rising fuel costs and the hard place of the state public utilities commission.

Decentralization being the original idea of ARPANET, I'd like to hope that there are enough solar-powered nodes to keep information alive even in the event of a massive power grid shutdown.

I'd like to do more than hope. Does anyone know? I did see this report, which cheered me somewhat:

Dateline: 8/14/2003

A major power outage that occurred at approx 2pm MST (4pm EDT) effected most of the north-eastern coast of the United States including major cities such as New York, Detroit, and parts of Canada. The impact on the Internet (in regards to server availability) was not nearly as dramatic as the UUNet/Worldcom backbone problem, due to almost all data centers having their own backup power systems. On the flip side, it is widely reported that user traffic did decrease noticeably while power was out.

How long would the backup power systems last? My concerns are more about the Internet survival during a possibly prolonged emergency than a temporary loss of traffic....

Is "pulling the plug" a feasible form of censorship?

Let me outline a nightmare scenario, based on a plausible nightmare.

  • A group of terrorists manages to sneak in a nuke, and trigger it in Manhattan, causing millions of American casualties.
  • Under the guise of "preventing hysteria," an emergency coalition consisting of well meaning (but power-crazed) people inside and outside government decides to shut down the Internet by simply turning off all electricity in the United States, or at least in most urban areas, "until further notice."
  • My question is not whether this would be legal, but whether in theory it would work.

    I hate it when people end the game by overturning the board, but mean people sometimes suck.

    MORE: A Defense Tech post argues that terrorists would be unable to shut down the power grid. But does that mean that it couldn't be shut down by the government?

    My concern is that the existence of centralized power to "protect the infrastructure" might tend to include the power to destroy it.

    posted by Eric on 02.16.06 at 11:45 AM










    Comments

    I am sure that the 'government' COULD shut down the power grid if it wanted to. Whether a small group of power hungry people inside the government could do so strikes me as unlikely.

    If their goal is to shut off the internet, it seems it would be much easier to shut down telecommunications companies and cable providers than the grid anyway.

    I am pretty sure that no matter how 'power crazed' a group was, the last thing they would want is millions of people panicing in dark houses with no access to information after a major attack. They would want to reassure everyone that someone is in control and the Government is on the job. This would mean that they would need to keep power availible for television and radio broadcasts.

    Dave Justus   ·  February 16, 2006 6:20 PM

    Crazy:
    President 'Just Fine' With Cheney Explanation

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,185062,00.html

    lj   ·  February 16, 2006 9:24 PM

    Dave I hope you're right. The way people were talking after 9/11 scared me though....

    Eric Scheie   ·  February 16, 2006 10:22 PM

    Shutting down the grid would require the complicity of a large number of organizations, both state and federal, acting in concert, along with the compliance of all of the regional security coordinators, utilities, load-serving entities, and generation companies. It'd never happen. Taking out the whole grid would require coordinated EMP attacks at key infrastructure points throughout the country, and even then it might not do the trick.

    Some alphabet soup for you:

    Federal level:
    DOA
    NERC (National Energy...)
    NERC (Nuclear Energy...)
    FERC

    Regional level:
    NPCC
    MAAC
    ECAR
    SERC
    MAIN
    MAPP
    SPP
    ERCOT (which is just Texas--good luck getting them to play ball)
    WECC

    Independant System Operators:
    NEPOOL
    NYISO
    PJM
    MISO
    CAISO

    The number of utilities, IPPs (e.g. the company I work for), & LSEs (load serving entities) are too numerous to count.

    Of course, the president could attempt to just ramrod the whole thing through executive order, but it'd almost certainly be ignored. If it were to be obeyed, the amount of paperwork and coordination necessary would take weeks at least to put in place. If he used the national guard to enforce it, he'd have to send them to ~50 different locations at a minimum, and that might not even be enough.

    Plus, Texas (a.k.a. ERCOT) is completely detached from the national grid apart from 3 DC lines, and since it's not interstate, it ignores all federal grid regulations.

    Beck   ·  February 17, 2006 11:14 AM

    Beck, I don't think he is talking about destruction of the grid, I think he means someone someplace with a pile of guns saying "switch it off until we tell you to turn it back on."

    And even at that, I don't think we would be totally down. There are too many people with cell phones and blackberries that would still be able to get to generator backed up servers.

    Phelps   ·  February 17, 2006 1:05 PM

    Thanks Beck. I'm feeling better now.

    But as to the cell phones, aren't most of the repeater towers on the grid too?

    Eric Scheie   ·  February 17, 2006 11:39 PM

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