How Our Power Grid May be Our Biggest Vulnerability
Our modern power grid is a cumbersome, complex and fragile patchwork of transmission lines that connect generators to a network of substations that relay power to communities and ultimately the end user. However, the current design has some inherent weaknesses that have yet to be addressed by government officials, and some components of the grid are nearly 100 years old. Let’s take a closer look at how the power grid works as well as why we are still so vulnerable to problems that could leave us in the dark without warning.
Some of you may remember when a handful of power companies were able to set prices and regulate service to customers. These monopolies were profit-driven and did their best to charge as much as they could with little accountability in terms of being required to provide reliable service. Consequently, investing in technology and equipment often took a back seat to profits. However, the government decided to break up these monopolies and allow new players to enter the market.
The result was more competition and better prices in some cases. However, the original power monopolies still had control over the overall infrastructure of the grid, which meant that they were responsible for delivering electricity from point A to B, no matter who the service providers were anywhere along the way. Consequently, when outages occur, it’s the responsibility of these companies to make repairs and try to prevent them from recurring. Unfortunately, profits still get in the way of developing and maintaining a system that is secure, redundant and reliable.
Where Power Comes From
We get power from large generation sources such as hydroelectric dams as well as nuclear or coal-fired plants. Pressure created by heat from these sources causes large turbines to spin and generate electricity. The electricity that leaves these massive facilities is funneled into a transformer which splits the electricity up and channels it along large transmission lines that travel great distances. These are the lines that we see attached to large towers that cross the country. However, generators and transmission lines may be owned by different companies that provide coverage to certain parts of the country.
Consequently, power in each region is not always delivered evenly or through the same equipment, which can complicate distribution as they connect to different parts of the overall grid. Communication and coordination between providers is not always seamless or efficient, and this is one of the reasons why blackouts can be so destructive.
The power from transmission lines is delivered to a network of switching stations which route electricity to regional or local facilities. From there, they are delivered to businesses and homes through a network of locally or regionally owned companies. In most cases, each state determines how power is delivered to the population, and subtle differences from state to state also contribute to our vulnerability as the quality of service can vary widely. However, the transmission lines themselves, the large ones that come from generation sources are administered by the federal government. Confused? Good, because it’s this arrangement that makes our power grid so fragile and unreliable.
Threats to our Power Supply
Threats can come in the form of natural disasters, severe weather as well as acts of terror or sabotage. While it is highly-unlikely that generation stations will fall victim to devastating failures, the thousands of smaller substations that route and deliver electricity to the end user are much more vulnerable. These facilities are often left unsecured, with little more than some barbed-wire fencing to deter threats. In fact, if someone was inclined and equipped to attack one of these stations, it would be a lot easier to accomplish than most people think. Furthermore, it doesn’t take a lot to knock out power by cutting lines between these substations and specific targets or parts of communities as a whole.
Because of this complex patchwork of interconnected, yet different power delivery systems, we are vulnerable to outages that can occur at any time. While this has been a concern for decades, making the grid more robust and reliable by forcing companies to invest in better equipment and security has been minimal at best.
Consequently, it’s important to always be prepared for a prolonged power outage, even if you haven’t experienced one in recent memory. All it takes is a coordinated and well-timed attack or some kind of serious equipment failure to throw entire communities, states or even regions of the country into darkness without warning.
Establishing an Order of Priorities When Setting up Camp
One of the most overlooked aspects of setting up camp is coming up with an order of priorities. This is an important step that should be planned ahead of time so that you know what needs to be done once you arrive on sight. There are a number of different factors to think about based on your needs and preferences, but unfortunately there are no one-size-fits-all solutions that will work for everyone.
However, there are some general guidelines to consider that can make it easier to develop an approach that works best for you. Let’s take a look at a few things to think about as you arrive on-site and get yourself established.
Timing and Weather
Two of the most important factors that will influence your decision-making process are the time of day and weather conditions. For example, imagine yourself showing up in the late afternoon. It may be a better idea to secure your water source and start foraging for firewood before setting up your tent and living area in order to take advantage of remaining daylight. This will also give you the opportunity to become aware of your surroundings and have a general lay of the land before it gets dark.
On the other hand, if you’re arriving when it’s raining, it may be best to put up your shelter before anything else. However, it’s also important to start thinking about how you will build and maintain a fire so that you can have as much time as possible to let the material dry out. Perhaps you will also need to factor in how you will get out of wet clothes and set up an area where you can allow your gear to dry out.
These examples also illustrate how things can be very fluid in the field, and how it’s important to be able to adapt to the conditions you’re facing. Perhaps you had plan A, but the situation at hand would be better addressed with a plan B. Do you have one? Maybe you can take advantage of the rain in order to collect some water. However, that would involve having to decide whether or not to attend to that before doing something that you would normally take care of first. Maybe you would normally build a starter-fire before anything else, but you notice that you have enough good wood nearby that you can work on another project instead.
How do You Feel
Another important factor to consider is how you’re feeling when you arrive. Are you worried about blisters forming now that you’ve stopped hiking? Are you hungry or fatigued? In some cases it makes more sense to get the hard stuff out of the way first so that you don’t have to deal with that uphill battle once you’ve been resting for a while. On the other hand, you may have everything that you need and can pitch your tent and relax before getting some work done. How you feel will play a big role in what you decide to do, but being prepared ahead of time will help to make adapting much easier.
Stay One Step Ahead
While it’s important to focus on the destination, and it is a goal that often motivates us as we travel, it is also important to think ahead as well. Experience will play a big role in how you adapt and prioritize, but so will conditions that are unique and hard to predict. One thing is for certain: No two sites are ever the same, and there will always be something that catches us off-guard. Whether or not it’s something that presents a big challenge or problem will also depend on the situation at hand.
This is why it’s important to constantly think about what to expect as you approach a site. Doing so will help you to get mentally and physically prepared to perform the tasks that need to be accomplished. The trick is to order them in the most-efficient ways possible in order to make life as easy as possible once you arrive.