50 Years Ago, The Big Blackout

Imagine the impacts half a century later.

One predictable outcome of every large blackout is a surge in the number of new babies born nine months later.  When you can't watch TV or play your video games, what else is there to do?  Reading by flashlight or candlelight is evidently not as popular an activity.  The first 12 hours might seem romantic, but passion will fade quickly with the primary emotion being anger at "whoever" is responsible for the outage and the slow pace of restoring power.

Check out this remembrance of the 1965 Northeast blackout, Going Black: 50 Years Ago the Power Failed Across Northeast United States  Today the impacts detailed would be similar, but more extensive.  Instead of electric typewriters becoming inoperative, all forms of electronic communications would end.  Back in 1965 the phones would have continued working for a number of hours as central offices at phone companies switched to generator and battery backup.  Today in our voice-over IP world and the dominance of cell phones, there would be virtually no communications because of overloaded systems.  The stock market is totally dependent today on electronic trading.  New York Stock Exchange floor is more of a "display space" that reflects the millions of transactions taking place each hour over the Internet.

As we have become a world dominated by digital connections and the need for electrical power, the impacts would be more immediate and the loss of productivity and business losses would mount exponentially.  

As noted in the article there have been other blackouts since this one in 1965.  In our electron dominated personal and professional lives it should give us pause to reflect more on what it would mean for either an EMP or CME event that causes physical destruction of electrical grid components (see earlier blog posts from this week).  Restoration will not be measured in hours or days, but weeks, months and perhaps years based on the severity of the event.  

Perhaps an EMP or CME is the final solution for getting your teenagers to "put that phone down" when we are at the dinner table!

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
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