What can we expect from local, state/provincial or federal law enforcement or emergency services during a medium to large crisis?
From a security and Government perspective, this is a very delicate subject and one which few in Government or private sector are truly wishing to discuss. We are not interested in promoting or denigrating any political party and most certainly are not wishing to disparage the reputation or efforts of any men and women who we all depend on upon during a crisis. Be it our Intelligence officers, Military or para military, Police, Fire, Hospital staff, Border Security, Transport Authorities professionals etc. The “soldiers on the ground” will have their work cut out for them. The issue is not their desire to help, but in the resources and speed with which Governments react.
Just about everyone in the loop knows that the immediate response will, while being visible, will not be enough to truly manage a large scale event. Small events such as violent protests see the police being told to “hold the line” or retreat in orderly fashion. Where does that leave you stuck in a building or in your car? Alone is where it will leave you! We have seen this occur all the time, and it is a simple matter of what the authorities have available and if it is available, their will to actually use it.
None of what we outline is classified and is all open source material. The only difference is that we are not playing word games or sugar coating reality.
Critical infrastructure that we all depend upon, is in some cases well over a hundred years old. Our sewers, dams, Hydro generating plants and transmission lines, oil or gas pipelines, telephone switch gear, railroad tracks, water treatment plants, chemical or oil plants and refineries, nuclear plants, bridges etc. are often very old. Much of it is in isolated areas and stretches for hundreds and even thousands of un monitored miles. Our mission critical systems number in the hundreds of thousands and are all around us, and make our lives what they are today. Sadly, they also receive very little if any true maintenance. As all forms and flavours of Governments are reluctant to spend money on critical infrastructure, they become points of failure and it simply becomes a matter of when, not if they will fail or be targeted by those wishing to do us harm or make a statement.
If all of these old or failing situations was not bad enough already, we now also have the additional threat of cyber-attacks being launched on most of these systems. Hydro, banking, tax records, water filtration plants and a myriad of other systems are all easily hacked and we read about the threat every day.
If for even two days, a city hydro system and financial system were to be hacked simultaneously, it would result in mass chaos and rioting. There is an old saying in security and it is “four meals to chaos”. Once a person and their family have missed four meals, things will start to unravel. It is not only the fact that one has missed four meals, but that there is no sign on the horizon that the fifth meal will also not be missed! Confidence in the Government collapses quickly and every man for himself mindset kicks in with social unrest becoming very evident.
What we also know is that despite promises and reassuring statements, all levels of Government are extremely limited in what they are able to do in preventing or mitigating any serious threat. The response is typically slow, limited in scope and is more of a “let the situation run its course” and then perform a cleanup operation. The other option or only choice they may have is to initiate an emergency type order and that will mean curfews, food lines etc.
Let’s look at a few events and see how things can play out. We would also be wise to consider the impact it would have if more than one event were to occur at a time. This could be pure bad luck or in the case of well organised protests or terrorism, a more planned attack.
What would happen to our lives if the power was to go down for two to four days, and could this happen?
1. No traffic lights, heat, air conditioning, hospitals greatly impacted, anyone on respirators would be impacted, grocery and all sporting goods, hardware stores etc. would shut down. In the case of grocery stores, the shelves would be emptied within hours.
2. People will not be paid and as we all know, the majority of people live pay check to pay check. That alone will give rise to anger and in all likelihood looting.
3. No fuel, as gas stations need power to pump gas. So what you have in your car is all you will have.
4. Banks and other forms of obtaining cash would be down. Cash will be king and items will double in price or worse.
5. Pharmacy would be shut down, so no access to medicines. Doctor’s office would also be closed and emergency departments would be over flowing with cuts, breaks, burns etc. Schools shut down. Airports and all transit shut down because of lack of street lights, fuel, and people unable to get to work etc.
Yes but the police and Government would be there to help, right?
1. No they would not. Little to no regular police patrols would be available as they would all be occupied with safeguarding hospitals, critical infrastructure, trying to direct traffic, guarding public figures, dealing with looting etc.
2. Government would be telling people how hard everyone is working and to call this number or that, telling you to avoid hospitals unless an emergency and to follow updates on the net. Besides the obvious attempt at trying to calm everyone with prepared script and trying hard to appear organised, they will be winging it and praying for a miracle. How they believe people will actually hear or see the notices is a bit of a question. No one will have power for TV’s, recharging cell, tablets or computers or internet routers etc.! So rumours and misjudgements will reign supreme.
3. No, we would be on our own. We would be trying to reach parents, family and friends. We would be looking very hard at what we have for food and making sure we eat up the food in our rapidly warming fridges before it spoils. Also, if power were to go out, municipal water plants or the suppliers and staff they count on could be affected and that may leave you with a boil water advisory. Hope you have a means to boil water with no electricity?
So, could the above happen? Of course it could. A hack could take out a number of substations and once things start shutting down, they trigger other shutdowns. A terrorist or other group could easily bring down a number of substations, an ice storm, earthquake, dam breach etc.
Many of the same situations would occur with a cyber-attack on financial markets, a terrorist attack on a water filtration plant and all the chlorine they use. Besides the disruption of drinking water ( and water to put out fires, keep sprinkler systems full so buildings can be occupied etc.) A chlorine explosion at the plant would impact everyone down wind. How and where would all the people affected go?
Other easily foreseen points of failure are;
Disruption to transportation from bridges or tunnels being damaged
Multiple train derailments due to terrorism.
A dam or series of levees breaking could make a city look like a war zone. Besides the direct damage to people and homes, you have power failures, sewage and water plant disruptions, bridge closures etc.
Food tampering would be a serious game changer. We live in a world where at best, we have food in the stores for two days. During a crisis, that food would be gone in hours. If a terrorist group hit three cities in different states, people wouldn’t know what food is safe to eat so one couldn’t simply ship some from one state to another. Knowing what we know about how efficient governments are, how many days …. Would one expect the Government to obtain, organise and distribute food to three large cities and all the towns around them that are also impacted?
Goal here is not to falsely scare people but to make sure everyone understands that when a large or a number of disasters occur, the Government and private resources we have grown to rely upon, will not all be there for us. Are we recommending everyone have a bunker? No. We are however recommending that we be honest with ourselves and take some very basic steps to lessen the impact on ourselves and those who depend upon us.
Again, none of this is aimed at one political party or another. Right now, we simply need to acknowledge the threats and risks and work on some solutions. Start slow, look around you and analyze your position. Be honest with yourself and do not become overwhelmed with the process.
1. How much water or other liquids do you have. A little fun here! Do not count your wine or scotch collection, it may be liquid but it is not water!
2. Look at what you have for food
3. how long would your current supply of medicine last you
4. How could you cook if you lost your source of power
5. How much cash is on hand at any time
6. What would you do for light
7. How will you power your cell phone, Internet connections or router, tablets, laptops, TV, Radio etc?
8. How much gas in in your car. If you do not have one, who could you quickly hitch a ride out of town with?
9. How about family members. It is natural that you will want to help them. If they are ill prepared, that will slow your plans down.
10. Do not forget about pets. They also require water, food and maybe medicines. If you needed to leave, would you be able to take them with you? Some cites have accommodated this on public transit, others have not.