The Pandemic Means Grid Operators Must Be Resourced Like DoD’s Special Operators, and Now!

April 2, 2020 Updated: April 7, 2020

Commentary

Members of the U.S. Special Operations Command are among the most well-trained and well-equipped warriors in the world, and our nation is rightly proud of that fact. As these noble combatants work diligently around the world every day to hunt America’s enemies, their service keeps us safe and for that we are grateful.

However, as Americans work hard to adapt to the rapidly changing environment and immense challenges posed by the current pandemic, more of them are beginning to appreciate the service that does more than keep us safe; it is a service that literally keeps us all alive. This is the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity—the lifeblood of a modern civilization.

Leading defense and policy experts have long warned that a pandemic could result in widespread electrical blackouts and thankfully many in government and industry are rapidly waking up to this reality, with common sense recommendations being made to keep electricity flowing during this crisis.

One of the most well-researched academic papers on this topic was just published by the Foundation for Resilient Societies, titled “Preserving Operational Continuity for Electric Utility Control Rooms During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The highly competent authors of this paper point out that electric utility control room operators will have high probability of being exposed and possibly infected, leading to the prospect of high rates of absenteeism and, with it, the prospect of electrical blackouts.

The Foundation’s work should be required reading, immediately, for government leaders tasked with prioritizing the limited assets needed to defend against the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19. It makes clear that the type of resourcing and prioritization we often provide our military’s special operators must now be directed toward these control room operators.

This includes routine asymptomatic testing, personal protective equipment, and dedicated medical support teams. The brave men and women working in hospitals around the nation won’t be able to perform their lifesaving work without the life sustaining work of the electric utility industry—and they know this.

For example, internationally acclaimed epidemiologist, Dr. Michael Osterholm, who serves as the director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, has been a leading voice in America’s battle against this pandemic.

In his book, “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs,” Dr. Osterholm wrote that he believes that the father of modern public health is Nikola Tesla, the inventor of the alternating-current induction motor that enabled the widespread use of electricity. The Doctor’s justification for this honor is worth repeating verbatim:

“The advent of electricity brought about quantum leaps in public health and infectious disease control. With electricity and water pumps, safe water supplies could be realized throughout the world. And with running water, effective sewer systems could be put into place. Electricity also brought us refrigeration, the ability to pasteurize milk, vaccine manufacturing, and air conditioning to keep mosquitoes out of our homes and places of work. It revolutionized medical practice through the invention of X-ray and other imaging technology, diagnostic equipment, mechanical ventilators, and more.”

Dr. Osterholm’s credit to electricity for the public health comes in the wake of nearly two decades of warnings by the blue ribbon and bi-partisan commissions on the importance of electric grid security. This includes work by the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, also known as the Congressional EMP Commission, which concluded that a long-term and widespread electrical blackout would result in America losing 90 percent of its population.

The Commission’s estimates were based on an observation of America’s population during the pre-electricity era when our land mass supported approximately 30 million people. While some have scoffed at this frightening figure, Dr. Osterholm’s book further illuminates the miracle that electricity provided humanity:

“In 1900 the average life expectancy in the United States was forty-eight years. By 2000, just one hundred years later, it was seventy-seven. For every three days we lived in the twentieth century we gained a day of life expectancy. Consider that in light of the fact that early humans in the form of Homo erectus emerged 2.4 million years ago, and it took until 1900 to achieve our forty-eight-year life expectancy. That means it took 80,000 generations to reach the 1900-era life expectancy, and only about 4 to reach our current level.”

It is undisputable that America’s population cannot survive without electricity, so we must immediately protect those who keep it flowing from the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 threat. Then, this generation of citizens—and most especially those who work in the utility industry—must commit to protecting the electric grid infrastructure from ALL hazards.

Tommy Waller serves as Director of Infrastructure Protection at the Center for Security Policy. Prior to joining the Center, Waller served as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps in the infantry and reconnaissance specialties, with combat service overseas in numerous theaters, and service on both active duty and in the reserves. Waller currently manages the Secure the Grid Coalition—a group of policymakers, defense professionals, and activists working diligently to secure America’s most critical infrastructure—the U.S. electric grid. Learn more at SecureTheGrid.com

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Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.