April 27, 2017

National Geographic’s American Blackout

I had the opportunity to watch National Geographic’s American Blackout
National Geographic’s American Blackout and thought I would give you my thoughts on the show. If you haven’t watched it, be warned, there are some spoilers in this article.

The premise of the movie is that there was a major cyber-attack that brings the electric grid down from coast to coast. The show is presented as if the content from citizens who took the video on their phones and video cameras was collected after power was restored,

The show mainly follows five groups, though video clips are shown from others. One group is comprised of a family of preppers and the boyfriend of the daughter. The second group is made up of four students trapped in an elevator. The third group is a wealthy couple somewhere in New York who live on the 46th floor. The fourth group is a family with a young daughter and a pregnant wife is who is due any day. The last group is a mother and teen-aged son. The mother is a nurse who leaves the son alone for most of the blackout.

The movie flows from day to day, giving viewers an idea of how quickly thing get bad. I had originally thought about reviewing it day by day but I think a better approach might be to go by categories. Just after the show starts and the power goes out, the groups mentioned above are often filming themselves. There is an occasional newscast report from a television station that is on generator power.
 
 
Water

Water is the most important of the five basic needs (occasionally security trumps it) and the only family that was prepared for this was the family of preppers. In one scene the man from the couple in New York goes into a store and tries to cut in front of everyone else, attempting to buy a gallon of water with his credit card. People were willing to pay $40 for one gallon of water!

I realize that many of us cannot store enough water, but knowing how to filter it and make it safe to drink is something every prepper should know. I cover several methods in the article The Storage, Filtration And Purification Of Water.

Nat Geo also made a comment about the average home in America using 400 gallons of water a day. That seems high to me but I have not researched it. In a survival situation the number that is often given is 2 gallons of water per person per day for drinking and miscellaneous uses.
 
 
Food

In the beginning of the blackout, people were throwing blackout parties, cooking a lot of the food before it went bad. The New York couple was eating caviar and drinking warm champagne. The man got sick later in the movie. Here are some tips on Keeping Food Cold Without Electricity.

The prepper family had quite the setup. They bugged out early to their remote location. It was stocked with some food in a closet inside the home. They called that their “decoy food”. If anyone broke in, they would steal that and quit looking. The preppers had 2+ years of food stored in their bunker. There was a neighbor who came to the fence asking for food. The father told the neighbor they could not help him, but the daughter’s boyfriend piped up and said they had plenty to spare. This raised the tension and the father ended up pulling his firearm and telling the neighbor to leave. The daughter’s boyfriend later snuck out and gave the neighbor some canned goods.

Nat Geo, made a text comment about the quantity of foods that are shipped and transported every day in the USA. Since the power was down, the cranes that offload ships in ports that require electricity weren’t functional and the gas pumps were unable to pump diesel into trucks. Therefore, none of those goods would be transported. I covered the impact this would have in When the Trucks Stops

There were many food related riots and eventually the federal government stepped in, instituting “rationing and fair allocation” of resources such as food, water and gasoline. Priority was given to EMS, police and military.
 
 
Power

Nat Geo stated that a cyber-attack could cause power surges, causing damage to the electric grid. I have read several articles over the years about municipalities and state and federal government finding proof that hackers from other countries have hacked into the grid.

The prepper family had a solar energy system and a bicycle generator. The father stated they had enough energy stored in their battery array to last two months.

One of the people in the elevator has a wind up cell phone charger that he used to keep his phone charged.

Nat Geo said that only 10% of the traffic lights across the countries have any type of backup power. This was leading to a lot of accidents.

I have covered multiple ways we can Prepare for the Grid to go Down. Just follow that link.

They said that cell towers often have backup power but that service would be drastically reduced due to load. This is often the case in any type of emergency. Often times a text message will still go through when a phone call will not.
 
 
Shelter

The couple on the 46th floor, having to go up and down the stairs was hating life by the third day.

The four people trapped in the elevator were all college students who were heading home for spring or summer break. No one knew where they were, let alone that they were trapped in the elevator. They tried to pry the doors open without any luck. Long story short, one student fell to his death from the top of the elevator. The other three made a harness to climb up the elevator shaft and were able to use a knife that one of the students had to cut through a grate of sorts and climb out. They were still trapped on the top of the building. A second student later died on the building roof.

Since there was no light at night, people were using candles, which was leading to fires. In fact, the family with the young daughter and pregnant wife were chased from their home due to fire. They had candles scattered throughout the house. I’m guessing that was the cause of the fire.

Many fires were out of control, as there was no water pressure to put them out. Nat Geo gave the number of 3,500 gallons of water being needed to extinguish the average house fire.

 
 
Security

Security for all of the groups was laughable. Multiple times people went to areas where there were known riots and gang activity. While I do think Nat Geo had the characters venture into these areas so we could see what things were like, I also know that this behavior isn’t limited to a few people in this youtube-driven, “selfie” taking, YOLO world we live in.

The prepper family had firearms but no real security procedures or plans in place. The son was standing the late watch when the neighbors who got food from the daughter’s boyfriend earlier came back to get more. They captured him and forced him inside the home. The son directed them to the decoy food. He then woke everyone. The father brought them all into the bunker at that point.

Later that day, the neighbors, now turned bandits, came back to see what else they could find. The family had a surveillance system and could see them coming. The dad went out alone to confront them, and got his rifle taken away.

The New York couple ended up near a riot and stole a can of peaches that they then brought back to their building. They were followed by a man who demanded the can of peaches. When he was told “no”, he attacked. The husband used the “assault can” to pummel the man. They heard sounds in the hallway of their apartment building and went to explore each time. This never ended well, and in the end, might have cost them everything.

The young man whose mother was a nurse had been on his own for over a week. He found a pistol in his mother’s room but had no idea how to use it safely.

As of the third day, there was a dusk till dawn curfew, which was largely ignored. The National Guard was asked to help patrol the streets in several cities. Martial law was talked about a few times.

 
 
Miscellaneous Items

People had little to no cash and, since ATM’s weren’t working, they had no way to pay for goods. One of the shops shown was willing to take trades. Many people don’t think cash will be valuable in such a disaster. I think it will be extremely valuable for a short time. In the show, the media frequently said the government was close to solving the problem. As long as people think the system will go back to what it was, cash will have value. If weeks and months go by, it will then lose its value.

Hospitals were overrun with people. Hence the nurse being kept from her son for many days. Because there was no power, people were doing things that they had never done before, like opening a can of peaches with a butcher knife. This led to a major laceration, which seemed to get infected and make the man quite ill.

I think it was around the seventh day when the President requested international aid, to deliver goods to the American people.

It was mentioned that there are roughly 700,000 HAM radio operators in the US. In this type of scenario this might be the most reliable form of communication.

It was also said that there is an estimated 3 million preppers in the US. I would love to know how they got to that number.

The lack of ability to have a working water and sewage system was mentioned a few times, but I think they grossly undersold the damage this would cause. I covered Survival Sanitation sometime ago. I linked to three great articles from Tactical Intelligence and I highly recommend all three. If you live in an area that is on city sewer and water, just think for a minute about what might happen if all of the toilets in your neighborhood stopped working for a week or longer. Knowing how to manage that, and all of the garbage is something we should all consider.

If memory serves, the power came back on to all of America after nine days. Things just don’t work like that. If power fluctuation can cause damage to parts of the grid all across the nation, it is going to take a lot longer than a little over a week to get them all repaired or replaced. I listened to a podcast with an electrical engineer named John Kappenman who has testified before Congress on the dangers to the power grid from EMP. He stated that we have some components in our grid that have a 30 year shelf life and are 50 years old. If that wasn’t bad enough, he said we no longer make some of these power plants and would need to have them shipped from other countries. Power might come up for a portion of the country, but there is no way a switch can be flipped and the entire countries’ power restored.

The father of the prepper family came off as a jerk to me. I agreed with most of what he said but he could have used far better arguments to make his points.
 
 
Final Thoughts

American Blackout is worth watching, if for no other reason than to decide what you would do differently. If we see a nationwide blackout, things are very, very bad. It would take a major event to bring down our entire electric grid and I would expect it to take much longer than nine days to repair.

I think this would be a good show to have a non-prepper watch. It could plant the preparedness seed.

If you had a chance to watch it, please let me know what you thought!

 
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Comments

  1. My DVR stopped recording the last couple of minutes. Did it ever say what happened to the rich couple? I know she got taken by the guys in the hall.

  2. We watched the program and thought it was very well done showing realistic scenarios. Great show not only for preppers but alsod an excellent way to encourage your friends and family members as to why they need to prepare for emergencies.
    Thank you Chris for expounding on it.

  3. My thoughts were also Chris that the lights would not come back on that quick. It would more likely be years, also their cars were running if they could get gas, none of the cars with computers in them are going to be working. .I have always read that only cars made BEFORE 1980 are going to work. The movie definitely gave you the idea of what it will be like. I hope the non preppers were watching it.

    • Penny the cars would only stop working if it was an EMP. In this scenario the grid was hacked, so the cars would still be running…if they have gas that is.

  4. I watched it all but didn’t learn much since I have been reading about this for over two years now. I agree with you that 9 days was not real. This will take months if not years and so many more will die.

    I did not agree with the prepper father going out when in the bunker he had what he needed to stay safe. He needed to have taken down all the supplies he wanted to save.

    Water is the biggest problem even with a filter because you will have to go out into the open to get the water and many thing can happen when you are out in the open.

    I think that it does open my view of how many will not be ready.

    • I agree, if going to the bunker was the final emergency plan, they should have had everything they needed down there.

      I’m not saying that they should have went down there, just that if that decision was made, he would have been better off sticking to it.

  5. First, as a single mom with a son, I’m quite certain that nurse would have gotten several texts from her panicked son, especially when he said he went around to all the hospitals and couldn’t get in to see her. Next, the idea that a father would send his son out to patrol at night without a gun didn’t seem plausible, and someone with that elaborate of a camera setup would have had a two-way radio setup in place. The mom letting the little girl have a candle in her room unsupervised didn’t make sense to me — most parents would have devised a hunker down in this room only scenario, at least at night, and the fire started when it was daylight outside, so why waste candle power. The airheads on the 46th floor sounded typical, but I didn’t understand their need to constantly investigate sounds. The college kids in the elevator was the closest to ‘reality’ that I saw.

    My biggest issue was the power coming back on suddenly and everyone going back to normal and playing nice again. The boyfriend’s phone suddenly ringing in his pocket and the bad guy neighbors deciding to just drop everything and let things go back to normal. Wouldn’t happen that easily or quickly, which resulted in the show being a bit too ‘unrealistic’ in the possible outcomes. I also saw it as really a negative towards those like the bug-out family, showing them as having too elaborate a system that resulted in the same outcome as those who stayed home.

    Overall, I agree that it would be a wakeup call for many who have never considered prepping. It also could present some situations to those who do prep and possibly never considered some of the instances or possible outcomes, so it may help them fine tune their preps. Would I watch it again? No.

    • Chris Ray says:

      I agree, there were a lot of holes. Someone with as an elaborate setup as the prepper would either have some type of night vision camera, or a two-way radio to keep in touch with the group.

      While I am glad I watched it, I wouldn’t watch it again either.

  6. I agree with your assessment of the show! Especially with the prepper dad being on the obnoxious side. If the point of the show is to encourage people to be better prepared, I think he should have been more likeable! I also thought the ending was lame when all of a sudden the power comes back on and everything is suddenly hunky-dory again. I was in and out while the show was on, so I don’t know if I might have missed anything about it, but I think they should have shown some less extreme peppers too. It might have been nice to show a family/couple with 72-hour kits, extra food/water, a small generator, and some first aid skills to get them through. It might make prepping more palatable for people to see that you don’t have to have a $40,000 bunker on your middle-of-nowhere homestead to be prepared, but that starting off simple with food and water and first aid kits will go a LONG way to putting you in a better position once disaster strikes.

    The most notable thing I learned from this show is that if someone in your family is emergency or medical personnel of any kind, then your family needs to do extra prepping/training because you will be one important adult short in making survival possible. Say you’re a cop/nurse/doctor and your wife (or husband) and kids are left home alone while you are saving people, that’s a terrible burden to place on your family without extra training and security measures to make up for your absence!

    • Chris Ray says:

      One of the major newspapers did a poll a few years ago, that said in any major type of event, 30% of police, emergency medical personal would not show up for work. They would most likely stay home to care for their family.

  7. Recently within the last 2 weeks w software engineers interviewed with Alex Jones and indicated that software they had designed (not with the intention of taking down the grid) found serious holes in the current grid system of the US. They tested their software on several smaller systems (county/state) and each time found that they could introduce malware into the existing system shutting it down. After many attempts to speak with DHS about the issues they finally gave up because all they were told was that it was being looked into. Their opinion was that it would not take a high tech computer hack to destroy the existing grid if this person so desired. They indicated they could do it and weren’t even trying. So I’m sure there are 3rd world countries out there paying attention to what is being stated about our grid system.

  8. Carl Rooker says:

    I saw the movie too. Although there were a lot of “holes” in it (as has been said) it gives good food for thought.

    Penny and Chris brought up EMP. If an EMP event occured, not only would the grid go down, but also most electronic equipment. Cell Phones would not work. Cars would not work. It is possible that those who tried Solar power would find their systems fried. Point is, in the event of an EMP things would be much, much worse.

    I have it recorded, and I am considering watching it again.

  9. grammyprepper says:

    I find the timing of the show just before the upcoming GridEx exercise rather suspicious. Someone trying to tell us something? Yes there were a lot of holes in the story, and the ending not believable. BUT if it got some people to pull their heads out of the sand, it served its purpose.

    • Chris Ray says:

      I do wonder how many people actually decide to prepare by watching shows like this. But I do agree, even if it got a small handful of people to open their eyes, it was well worth it.

  10. I had this set to recording on my DVR. Funny thing is our Electricity went out from a wind storm about a half hour after this show aired and ended. When the electricity was restored the next evening we had our water pump go out at about 1:30 am. So we were with out water and sewer for that whole day til late that evening.

    We weren’t even without these utilities for a full 24hrs. and it really got me thinking we are not as prepared as we thought we were. I filled three of my lanterns with oil. Let everyone know where I keep the matches, candles. My husband took a 5gal. bucket, lined with a trash bag and put it out on the back deck for any one who needed to use a toilet. (I told him I would just put it in the shower for privacy) he said we could always just go in the woods… We live out by the mountains : )

    So I did get to watch the movie and I learned a few things like having a decoy food pantry to lead thieves to. Obvious thing, never let children have candles, or do the night watch!!! Duh! And the big one was the outsider, the boyfriend… Ugh! Those are the ones that lead the wolves to the sheep. He should of been thrown in the bunker from the beginning, LOL

    I am actually gonna watch this again tonight to see anything else I might glean from it. I also watched a Blackout version from England on YouTube a couple days ago. You might wanna check that out…

    • I’m glad you learned a thing or two from it. Picking out the bad decisions and deciding what you would do differently is just as valuable as learning something new.

    • Nice dress rehearsal! I hope the pump wasn’t an expensive repair.

      I can’t find the full video for the British version you rec’d, only some trailers and what I think are reactions to it or to a news segment that has the same search parameters I was using. If it’s not too much trouble, will you post a link to it here or maybe on the forum?

      Thank you!

  11. Some people trust in chariots – we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

  12. I didn’t watch the show, but have this to say about the obnoxious prepper dad. If we are “nice” preppers, we want to think all other preppers are nice too. That isn’t reality. Just go to youtube and you’ll see plenty of obnoxious preppers posting videos. Remember this, Christians are a minority in this world, so Christian preppers are an even smaller minority. And…even I, as a Christian, find myself being obnoxious sometimes. (or have it pointed out by my wife)

    • Christians are not immune from obnoxious, no group is.

      My problem with the preper dad wasn’t with him being obnoxious, my problem with him was the arguments he gave for the decisions he made. And for some of the decisions he made.

      I got the impression that who ever wrote the dialog for him didn’t understand preppers or prepping. They understood the actions, but not the motivations behind them.

  13. I was not impressed with the show at all. I thought it was poorly done with many gaping holes. That being said, if it convinces just one person to start prepping, in my mind it’s a rip-roaring success and ok by me.

    • “That being said, if it convinces just one person to start prepping, in my mind it’s a rip-roaring success and ok by me.”

      I agree!

  14. Jim Moore says:

    Great post and some great comments as well. I enjoyed the movie and hoped many non-preppers were watching. I know there were many holes in the movie and some less than desirable half-truths but all in all I hope it was a thought provoker for many and starts some to seriously considering preparations.
    Fear Not!

  15. FYI: Looks like they are running the show again this Wednesday.

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