Much of Washington, D.C. and its surrounding counties – the wealthiest, most security-conscious real estate in the known universe – were left without electricity, lights, and emergency services as a result of severe summer storms during the last weekend of June.
“Residents in the City of Manassas, Manassas Park, Vienna and Fairfax and Prince William counties were told to call alternate phone numbers, send emails or drive to their nearest police or fire station if they had an emergency,” reported Washington, D.C.’s NBC affiliate. “Some residents in Fairfax and Prince William counties were able to get through Saturday, and some Manassas residents were able to get through beginning Sunday evening.”
As of July 3, more than 300,000 homes and businesses were still without power – a vast improvement over the 1.7 million that had been deprived of power Saturday morning, but still a catastrophic state of affairs.
The unusually strong “Super Derecho” storm system – described by some as the equivalent of a “land hurricane” — inflicted severe damage on the regional power grid serving much of the densely populated Eastern Seaboard inland all the way to Illinois. Emergency declarations were issued in Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington. Millions along a 700-square-mile area were left without power as a relentless heat drove the mercury skyward and left many regional temperature records shattered.
Apart from the obvious threat of heat prostration and dehydration, the sudden loss of electricity resulted in a full-spectrum survival crisis for millions, notes an AP report:
Across the eastern U.S., people are struggling through a third day of heat and no electricity. Their groceries are long gone, either used up in weekend cookouts or left to spoil in useless refrigerators. The usual frozen treats people turn to on a sweltering summer day have melted.
The basics of daily life are difficult: Washing machines won’t work without electricity, leading to some creative wardrobes. Bottled water has gone from luxury to necessity for people whose underground wells aren’t pumping.
Newt Gingrich pointed out that the impact of the storm on the electrical grid offered something of a test case for the impact of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) – a side effect of a nuclear detonation in the atmosphere that would disable all electronic devices within its area of impact. In similar fashion, the storm’s impact is similar to some scenarios associated with the ongoing “Solar Maximum” – such as the potential effects of a major coronal mass ejection, a plasma storm that could disrupt the earth’s magnetosphere and wreak havoc with electronic systems.
In countless ways, our wired society depends on access to electricity – and the sudden loss of that energy resource can have immediate lethal effects. While it is worthwhile to prepare for exotic contingencies involving EMP weapons or anomalous solar activity, the most important preparedness priorities are practical concerns based on a simple question: What would happen to you if the power went off, and stayed off for days? As people along the Eastern Seaboard are learning, this question is not a hypothetical exercise.
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