No phones. No internet. No A/C. How prepared are we for a major power grid attack?
Imagine the life we know gone dark.
For weeks, maybe months.
Dark as in loss of power. No cell phones, ATMs, traffic lights, heating or cooling.
About once every four days, part of the nation’s power grid — a system whose failure could leave millions in the dark — is struck by a cyber or physical attack, a 2015 USA TODAY analysis of federal energy records found.
We’re about to get a taste of that Tuesday through Thursday. Dark Sky — a mock disaster scenario of mass power outage proportion — will bring together the National Guard, local law enforcement and communications and emergency management personnel to pose the question: “What if?”
More than 1,000 people from federal, state, county and municipal agencies will be involved in the Dark Sky drills, with locations across in the Fox Valley and east-central Wisconsin.
In Fond du Lac, the mock disaster scene will unfold at Alliant Energy. Threatened with a terrorist takeover (portrayed by actors), National Guard will be called in to stop the attack, said Bobbi Hicken, the county’s director of emergency management.
“There is no real power outage and we will not be turning off the power as part of the exercise,” Hicken said. “But it is a good time for people to think about how prepared they are should an extended emergency arise.”
National Guard members will arrive in the city about 2 p.m. and the simulation should extend until about 9:30 p.m. Signs will be posted alerting citizens.
In the Fox Cities, ThedaCare Regional Medical Center will participate in three drills over three days, and local employers are allowing employees to portray victims and rioters, said media spokesperson Megan Mulholland.
Crashes, riots, explosions, public shelters, evacuations, terrorism and more will be carried out in 30 exercises.
Outagamie County emergency management specialist Rob Olson has spent 18 months aiding in the coordination of Dark Sky. Simulated tabletop exercises involving widespread power and gas outages kick off in the morning at Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center just west of Appleton. Events are planned over all three days.
“This is all about everyone working together on a massive, large-scale operation to figure how we would support communities in times of crisis,” Olson said.
In the event of an extended crisis, Kwik Trip, for example, has offered to bring in refrigeration trucks, Olson said, to retrieve refrigerated food out of stores and restaurants to be used to feed the community. The Salvation Army would be called in to identify and organize feeding areas for distribution and to serve meals.
“By training together, we continue building meaningful relationships that leave us better positioned to respond to a real-world situation,” said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general.
Dunbar testified in 2016 before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that a primary concern in the event of a long-term blackout is to ensure water and sewage operations so that citizens would not have to leave their homes and compound a catastrophic event with mass migration. Water and sewage operations would, in such an event, depend on diesel fuel, which only lasts a finite amount of time
In Omro, members of the National Guard will be going door-to-door to check on residents as they would in a real crisis, said Linda Kollmann, director of emergency management for Winnebago County. A simulated Red Cross emergency shelter also will operate overnight at the Sunnyview Exposition Center in Oshkosh.