What would you do if you were a community leader and your town was knocked off the grid? This is the focus of an IST Security and Risk Analysis Capstone course. This is the second edition in a series of student-written posts about their participation in this capstone course. In the future, we’ll feature more posts from the students as they progress through the Lights Out scenario. You can read the other student blog post, or check out some background information about the course in this post.
Here’s the situation:
The country has received a direct hit of a solar event called a coronal mass ejection. It’s bad news. There are three communities — Smithville, McCracken, and Longview — that the students are attempting to lead back into the 21st century in this Analytic Decision Game.
The power went out in McCracken. At first I thought it was just my block, but I found that it was the entire town. The weird thing though is this: nothing works. My phone was at half battery, but it appears dead now. My laptop was charging in my bedroom when the power cut out. It’s dead, too. I even dug up two two-way radios from the mess on the floor of my closet.
I was one of the last of the neighborhood to go outside. Everyone who was home was out talking with the neighbors. Their power was out, too. Many were clutching their cell phones, holding them higher as if a slight change in altitude would yield some sign of life. My own phone stayed in my pocket.
Will, from next door, opened the door to his van. He would take a group to the town hall and see what was going on. That mission was quickly abandoned. The van wouldn’t start. I went to my own Audi and tried the key. Nothing. I popped the hood and looked at the engine. Nothing seemed out-of-place, but I’ll be the first to admit I know nothing about engines.
All along the street people were checking their cars. Wendy was the first to cry. Her car, a Subaru, had been bought a week prior. Once we determined the cars wouldn’t start we began to migrate towards town hall. I was among the first to leave, but soon there was a fairly large procession of confused and upset citizens.
We picked up several people on our way. The offices and shops had emptied out. Some farmers were beginning to trickle in from their fields. There was already quite a crowd around town hall. I tried to push my way to the front, but ended up squeezed between the local librarian and another man I didn’t know.
After a short while, the Municipal Manager came out and stood on a stack of pallets and held his arms up for silence.
“Ladies and gentlemen, settle down,” he shouted. “The power in town has gone out, but we’re working to get it back on and we can continue our workday soon.” This comment blatantly ignored the fact any battery-operated devices were out as well, but he pressed on anyway.
“We’re working now to ensure the safety of those in the hospital and the retirement home. If you all could please disperse. Go to a neighbor’s house and wait there. We’ll let you know if there are any changes. What we need right now are level heads, clear streets, and willing volunteers.”
I didn’t care to hear the rest. I turned away and pushed back through the crowd. Matt would be around here somewhere, and he kept a few cold ones in his basement for when he had company. I’d find him and wait this out.
As for the rest of the crowd, they were shouting about various things- mostly about their cars. They were demanding answers that the Municipal Manager clearly didn’t have. Others were leaving as well, seeing the same futility of asking questions that I saw. The fire chief was off to one side of the crowd, standing next to a bike rack. He was talking to a circle of people. They were all looking down at a single sheet of paper. I guessed it was some sort of crudely-drawn map of McCracken. They’d probably send cyclists out to see what was going on all across town and if anyone knew anything.
Let them do whatever they want to. I’ll wait this out. A power outage was nothing new, even if all electronics were out. A sun flare or solar storm, perhaps? I hadn’t heard anyone mention “terrorism” or “war” yet. Nobody wanted to consider either of those possibilities.
As I moved down the street I shrugged to myself. If this was a terrorist attack or a first-strike of the next war, I’d better get some rest. Soon, things would get worse.
Approximately 24 hours ago, the town of Longview experienced an unexpected catastrophe when all electrical power as well as the use of electronically powered devices was lost. With no modern means of communication, the only known emergencies and accidents are either observable from town or have been reported by word of mouth. The town government has scrambled to respond to the mayor’s demand to take stock of the situation before creating a plan of action.
After establishing defined roles and a chain of command, Longview’s government officials began compiling all available information to create a triage system, treating the most serious situations first. Accidents at the sawmill and power substation as well as a possible plane crash are exasperated by the fact that no EMS vehicles are operational and there is no way to keep in contact with those on-site. At least those injured when the streetlights exploded in town were fortunate enough to be close to the treatment facility.
Aside from accidents, Longview also has a vulnerable elderly population at a care facility to worry about, as well as a number of stranded schoolchildren and concerned parents. Some of the parents are themselves stranded at work, making establishing communication and coordinating logistics to get everyone home safely a priority. Finally, there are the rambunctious teenagers to address. If we could only get the fire truck to start, surely the threat of being doused with the hose would send them running. It looks like we may be reinstating mounted police units until we can figure out the electrical gremlins plaguing our emergency vehicles.
We expect our hardy, well-armed citizens will be able to take care of themselves, but vagrants have been reported wandering in towards town from the line of broken down cars on the highway. Some of our out of town citizens may be wandering in as well, unfortunately to find their homes without power, telephone, or television.
Once we put out the figurative and literal fires, we can organize our skilled tradesmen and engineers to figure out what the heck is going on here and see if they can’t jerry-rig a solution to make use of some infrastructure and assets that are still functioning.