U.S. Power Grid: A Study in Vulnerability

IMG_0281The power grid. These monoliths have long fascinated me and now a major grid line actually runs through our neighborhood. Great, hulking, carriers of civilization’s life blood. Do you remember reading an article earlier this year about vandalism on a power station California? I remember reading it, but not the details. Still, the story – and the fear – has stuck with me. So, I decided to do a little research and this is what I discovered.

Turns out the time was April, 2013, but an article reporting about the true seriousness of this attack did not appear until almost a year later. The February 2014 article  in the Wall Street Journal finally brought the issue to the public eye. Indeed, at the time, the California  incident was quickly erased from public eye and seemingly blamed on some innocuous vandals – a no biggie kind of thing. In fact, it was a biggie kind of thing. This ‘attack’ was, according to Jon Wellinghoff, then chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S.

WOW!!!

The California episode exposes the vulnerability of the grid as well as the potential for another incident – a serious incident, or should I say, a more serious one.  An article discussing a recently released report about the fragility of the system stated:

“The entire US power grid could be shut down for more than a month if just nine of the over 55,000 electric substations placed throughout the nation were sabotaged by terrorists or other criminals…”

Other experts say that the “over-a-month” time period is more likely over 18 months. Maybe more.

Our power infrastructure is vulnerable to more than physical attacks. Enter the possibility (likelihood?) of cyber strikes.  The world is filled with brilliant people who have the technological expertise as well as the will, and motivation, to destroy.  In discussing the a potential for a cyber-attack, Gerry Cauley, president of the North American Electric Reliability Corp. said:

I am most concerned about coordinated physical and cyber attacks intended to disable elements of the power grid or deny electricity to specific targets, such as government or business centers, military installations, or other infrastructures.”

These comments were made when Cauley addressed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee back in April.IMG_0283Jon

Just think about the ramifications if the grid went down. No lights. No computers. No banking. No money. No refrigeration. No gas. Need I continue? Based on the recent catastrophe of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, it can happen anywhere, in a fraction of an instant.

My point here is that though we have already learned to be on high-alert since 9/11, that alert needs to be sharpened.

The Woods Before Spring

Technically it is spring, but with temperatures stuck in the 40s and 50s and rain bordering on snow still putting a damper on lusty month of May days, it is a time I will dub, “Before Spring.” As such, nature is in a major lull. Sure, daffodils and crocuses, hearty little souls that they are, are popping up and waving bravely in gusts and downpours and the grass grows wildly, begging for its first cut of the season.

IMG_0153ABut in between the rain and wind,  I make my way into the woods, new camera in hand, to capture what I find ‘before spring’ beautiful.  For some odd reason, I am into the twisting, clawing of the vines that snake their way throughout these woods, clutching hold of everything in their way. I find them beautiful, artful, in the unique, somewhat grotesque ways they grab hold of their prey.

There is also the ‘old stuff’:  rusted archetypes of cars, barrels, and whatever else was tossed in years past. In principle, I am appalled that someone dared to mar, ‘my’ woods; on the other hand, I find this pile of old junk oddly beautiful, lying in harmony with the still stark ‘woods before spring’. Soon, though,  the junk will be secreted by the lushness of the woods in its full spring regalia!IMG_0152

Isn’t it strange how the nakedness of the woods before spring parallels the bare truths of our own lives?

Listening to Ghosts

In recent years, I have developed an obsession with abandoned places and things and as a result, I am driven to capture their ghosts and their stories with my camera. When I first stop and contemplate one of these deserted structures, I listen. I listen to the energy yet emanating  from those who had once been there. I wonder what passed under the roofs of these haunted places. I ponder about what life was like and why they were abandoned. Then I question – why am I so fixated on these ghosts of a time now past? First there is the church I came across in the Finger Lakes with its broken windows, chipped paint and wild bushes threatening to swallow it whole.

Then there is the bomb shelter hidden away in woods now luring nearby teens for secret sessions of drinking and smoking, far from parents’ watchful eyes. Sadly, once it had been a place for protection and safety.  I think the doghouse saddens me most, once home to a vibrant, bouncing beloved dog and now relegated to the back fields to rot away, out of sight from hearts that still mourn its passing years later. The grotto is next. I have written about it before, but it shall always haunt me. And the power plant where the imaginary woman in my make-believe story was murdered by ghosts who threw her into its pit.

Abandoned Church in the Finger Lakes

Abandoned Church in the Finger Lakes

Power Plant1

Abandoned Power Plant

And so I continue on  my quest to find those abandoned places where I will meet the ghosts that linger and perhaps carry on their legacies in simple pictures and words.

Abandoned Bomb Shelter

Abandoned Bomb Shelter

Grotto 1

Abandoned Grotto

Abandoned Dog House

Abandoned Dog House

The Lesson

IMG_0022

 

I like winter. But I am now done with winter. I was done with winter two months ago. I have become one with the cacophony of complaining souls about this most brutal and relentless of winters. Even on this April 5th morning we had yet another inch. But despite the weather’s refusal to let go, there are other creatures and beings whose mission it is to march on – now past March and into April. I found some of these amazing life forms beside our house the other day. They stopped me cold with their tenaciousness and bravery.  Smiling, I went back into the house that day. I thought, you never know from whence the lesson comes.  IMG_0024

Ode to the Commute

100_0308I’ve done “it” three days a week at 7 a.m. for five years now and it struck me that I needed to memorialize it in some small way for all it does for me.

“It” is my drive to the college where I teach, a 20 mile trek through a countryside that displays canvases splashed with brilliant bright colors and moody dark landscapes. Sometimes the canvas is barren, sometimes laced with daisies and buttercups, now topped with snow mounds that look like giant marshmallows.  Several ponds dot the landscape that lines the highway and I delight in tracking the lifestyles of the inhabitants which include ducks, geese, turtles, Great Grey Herons and the occasional jumping fish. I take great comfort in all life rhythms and these lovely creatures so generously share theirs with me.

During most winters, the ponds don’t freeze over for long but this year, with no thaw, the ice kept the over-winter geese from their life-blood waters. Many died,  I’m told. I didn’t see any that had, but then again, I didn’t see any geese at all. This is unusual. The cycles of life and nature are not always kind.

In the fall when the hunters bows and guns flourish and their prey don’t, turkey vultures swirl about far overhead, creating a cloud that undoubtedly marks the gutted carcasses as their own.  In the summer, road kill ‘manufactured’ by us humans angers me, for this is not part of nature’s scheme. It saddens me to think about the nests and dens to which a mother or father animal will never return leaving their helpless young abandoned and hungry.

Today on my way, I saw a creature running ahead of me, straight down the entrance ramp like a horse on a race track. Fortunately this little critter ran off into the brush before finding his way into the chaos of human traffic.