Blackout Channel 4TV

A “review” by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

“Blackout” was a feature-length 'What-If' drama exploring the effects of a devastating cyber-attack on Britain's national electricity grid that was broadcast in the beginning of September 2013 on Channel 4 TV in the UK.

BlackoutBased on expert advice and meticulous research, Blackout combined real user-generated footage, alongside fictional scenes, CCTV archive and news reports to build a terrifyingly realistic account of Britain being plunged into darkness.

The film plotted the days following a nationwide power cut, as experienced by a cast of ordinary characters struggling to feed and protect themselves and their families. These eyewitness accounts reveal the disastrous impact of a prolonged blackout on hospitals, law and order, transport, and our food and water supplies.

The program cast members of the public from user-generated footage, weaving real-life archive with scripted drama to tell the story of how Britain could descend into chaos and anarchy without power.

It is rather a wake-up call but amazing how many people, judging from Twitter and other communications in regards to this TV pilot, as to how vulnerable the electricity grid is and that their TVs are also powered by the grid. And comments like that are rather scary. Britain seems be becoming more and more Americanized, also in stupidity.

A number of interesting points were raised, so to speak, in the program and people would do well to understand and to heed them.

Number one is that there are priorities and that the government is not going to be able to protect and provide for the individual and that people will be, more or less, on their own.

The fact that everything is, basically, reliant on electricity almost nothing will work and that includes telephone, Internet, television and wireless (radio) reception only via battery-powered or wind-up radios. Gas and water also will be affected and will not work, that includes the water treatment plants and thus it is advisable to have alternative means and prepping is very important.

Supermarkets and shops in general rely on daily deliveries and in a crisis will be out of food and bottled water within an hour ow two and thus having a supply of food and water at home is important.

However, and this message was also given loud and clear, if you are making and having your own preps, including generator and such, do not broadcast it far and wide but keep it well under your hat.

While in the movie people kept using their cell phones it has to be understood that (1) in the event of any crisis, as we saw in London with 7/7 the cell phone network will be prioritized for emergency services use ONLY and thus the ordinary user will be left in the dark, and not just as far as the lights are concerned. And (2) that the batteries of such devices do not last for ever and most of them will be dead within hours if they have to be trying to lock onto a signal all the time.

Fuel will be for essential services only and the ordinary motorist better understand that he will have no chance to get the stuff. Thus driving around looking for fuel or trying to get to somewhere is not going to work, aside from the fact that, which was not shown in the program though, most places will be locked down under emergency powers. You will not be able to leave the area where you are and it has to be understood that under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 the armed forces will be deployed on the streets and a lot earlier than the movie suggests. And you can bet your bottom dollar that they will not just be there with batons to keep order. They will be authorized to use lethal force as they deem appropriate.

That means that even if you have a full tank in your car, which will not get you all that far, you may not be able to use it to leave your area. Better also consider some means of alternative transport such as and especially the humble bicycle. Not that the towns and cities will be very safe to be out and about with that either.

Even once such a crisis ends, as in this scenario the electricity grid having been reestablished food and other commodities may still be days or weeks away before they turn up again in the supermarkets, if the latter have not been looted and burned out, requiring some time to rebuild and restock.

Our electricity grid is not just vulnerable to cyber attacks and thus making it not “smart” at all but also to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) which can come about as a result of enemy action as well as from natural sources such solar flares of the right magnitude or the explosion of an asteroid in the Earth's atmosphere. In the latter cases this could knock out more than just one country's electricity network and EMP will do more damage than any cyber attack possibly could.

What also does not work in any such event are ATMs and only cash will do. But when you have got all your money, as most of us have, in the bank then getting at it will be impossible. “Oh, for that reason you should hold gold and silver coins”, say many preppers. OK, and you show me a filling station, in such a crisis, where they will accept gold and silver coins as payment.

In fact, almost everything depends on electricity and computer networks and that includes your bank and even if they would be open they would not be able to open the safe. It has a time delay lock that is, guess what?, powered by electricity. The way things are when the grid fails – this “smart” grid – we are all basically screwed.

Instead of investing in an ever more sophisticate “smart grid” the government should concentrate on localized renewable power generation so that the grid would hardly matter anymore, and allowing communities to create their own power systems.

The movie also so rightly pointed out, as with the words of the “survivalist”, that people are stupid when it comes to such a situation in that the looters took plasma TVs and other such items for which they would need electricity, not that anyone would support looting, I am sure.

Hopefully this movie served as a wake-up call for many who saw it to the fact that (1) our electricity grid is extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks and, alas though this was not mentioned, EMP, (2) that we cannot rely on the authorities in such an incident (or any other for that matter) and (3) that one needs to make some preparations for such events and that means having food and water and other supplies at home (but without letting the entire neighborhood know).

As far as radio reception is concerned it will have to be battery-powered or wind-up and for person-to-person communications you will have to think of things other that cell phone or even landline. Two-way radios are useful for family short range communications but they, and that is to be remembered, are NOT secure.

As the movie also made clear, though it could have done more on it and properly, bugging out is not an option as you will be stuck for, unlike in the movie, the authorities will shut down towns and cities much faster than it showed and secondly you will not be able to rely on obtaining fuel for a motor vehicle if that is your option of travel.

How far do you think even a full tank of fuel in your car, even if there are no roadblocks, will get you, especially if you live in the big urban areas? Not very far at all and not far enough to do your own thing.

Be prepared and prepared to hunker down, to bug in, rather than to bug out.

© 2013