Prepping Goes Establishment

With the increased risk and reality of terrorism — fueled by bad actors both inside and outside our borders — American utilities and the policy makers that govern them are looking hard at how to keep our electricity infrastructure safe. According to Wall Street Journal reports, a number of companies are in discussions about creating a “strategic reserve” of transformers and other associated equipment, stored in a secure location to replace equipment destroyed by either natural causes or more sinister forces.

As a former employee of a large utility in South Florida, I can attest to the fact that we were constantly in a state of preparation for worse-case scenarios, perhaps due to the fact that six months of the year our equipment was at risk from a simple Category 1 storm. We bragged to our customers about the resilience and reliability of our facilities, knowing that it was kinda true.

In reality, we fell short of taking some of the more extensive steps to ensure continuity of service in a disaster or, in the parlance of utility world, to harden our system entirely. Why?

The central challenge to being fully prepared was the cost associated with making sure hospitals and community shelters could function in an emergency, and that Miami Beach tattoo parlors or the large number of elderly surviving on iron lungs had reliable power. When the Public Service Commission directed us to make the system more resilient, those costs typically tracked right back to our customers, and no one liked that.

I say all that to make the point that some utilities are prepared, others, not so much, which brings us to the concept of a “strategic transformer reserve (STR).” The U.S. Government is studying the needs and supply chain problems for such a reserve. It has yet to mandate membership in an STR club, but if access to affordable healthcare is a right, shouldn’t access to affordable, resilient and reliable electricity be one too? If you choose to live in a flood plain, the law requires you to acquire Flood Insurance so why isn’t catastrophic insurance required of utilities in areas prone to extreme weather — like…say, the entire Earth?

Mainstream society often scoffs at “preppers,” those individual citizens who purchase and store food and equipment critical to survival in a grid down zombie apocalypse. There are even reality shows featuring these “oddities” in our society. But perhaps the prepper lifestyle is beginning to trickle up to the establishment — big utilities and the U.S. government. It’s about time.