December 18, 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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