By Mark Wolf
Ted Koppel was blunt, but with a smile.
"Having now successfully, I hope, scared the hell out of you, I thank you for the attention and I apologize for ruining your morning," the iconic network journalist told a session of the Energy Policy Summit at NCSL's Legislative Summit in Chicago.
Koppel, a wartime correspondent in Vietnam and the founding anchor of ABC's "Nightline," a position he held for 25 years, posits that not only is the nation's power grid vulnerable but that the country is woefully unprepared for a cyberattack by terrorists.
In his new book "Lights Out" and during Monday's session, Koppel asserts that the dependence on the internet to connect the nation's 3,200 power companies makes the power grid susceptible to invasion by attacking one of the smaller companies and working their way back.
"It's not easy. In fact it's terribly complex, but we need to consider this. The internet, for all its many virtues, has become a weapon of mass destruction. The capability of at least two nations, the Chinese and the Russians, to take down one or all three of our electric power grids is there. This is not a theoretical capability. They are capable of doing that. We are also capable of doing the same thing to them," said Koppel, adding that, based on his reporting, he does not believe a total defense of the grid is possible.
Failing that, he said, the nation needs to begin preparing for a major attack that could leave millions of people without power for an extended period and require mass relocation to neighboring states.
"Think about tens of milions of Americans without electricity not for days but for weeks and months. There is no plan for these consequences. None. We have plans for hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, extended droughts, every possible natural phenomenon but no plans for our grid being taken down by a cyber attack. Go back and talk to your constitutens and begin to start making these plans," he said.
"Sure, your various states do have supplies of emergency food but almost inevitably they would be depleted within a week."
Koppel advises converting emergency food supplies from packaged ready-to-eat meals (MREs), which have a shelf life of five years, to freeze-dried food, which has a shelf life of 25-30 years.
"I know of one state that does have a plan: When refugees start coming in, the police and the National Guard will be out on the streets passing out sandwiches, bottles of water and maps telling people how to get out of the state," he said.
Koppel said states should begin stockpiling large portions of food and be prepared to erect shelter camps for the displaced.
"In the event we had to begin moving hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans from urban to rural areas, doesn't it make sense to deal with the governors and state legislatures of those states and say, 'We're going to provide you the money. It's not going to cost you anything.' If people knew that food was going to be available it's going to be a lot easier than if tens of thousands of people come to their states and start waving their guns around and there is violence. I'm simply saying there are two fairly simple steps we can take in advance of a crisis like this, in the event that a crisis takes place."
Mark Wolf is the editor of the NCSL Blog. Read his interview with Ted Koppel in the May edition of State Legislatures magazine.