Lights Out! Students Report on How They’re Facing the Apocalypse

An analytic decision game underway in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology is pitting students against a massive natural disaster.
An analytic decision game underway in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology is pitting students against a massive natural disaster.

In a recent blog post, we talked about Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology Professor of Practice Col. Jake Graham’s  Security and Risk Analysis Capstone course (SRA 440W). Students in the class face what Graham calls the “Lights Out” scenario.

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.

According to our student bloggers from Team Smithville:

Coronal mass ejections (CME) are bursts of solar plasma erupting from the sun’s corona. These outbursts are capable of releasing huge quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation into space above the sun’s surface and hurling the solar wind toward earth. CME is associated with enormous changes and disturbances in the coronal magnetic field. A large enough CME event is capable of shutting down the electrical grid and destroying all digital electronics in its path.

Our scenario is set in rural America in the year 2025. Up until now our lives have been overwhelmingly influenced by digital technology and a dependence on electricity. Then, inextricably, the lights go out. Our fictional post-cyber society community has been frozen in time. Automobiles, trains and aircraft cease to operate. The power grid has failed. All unshielded digital electronics have been fried and what remains of our military and government infrastructure is unknown. Our struggle is not in restoring the internet – our struggle is for the survival the nation and of our way of life!

Team Smithville observations:

The lights have now gone out in the Borough of Smithville. All electrical equipment and cars are unusable, thought to be the result of a sort of electro-magnetic pulse. Our team, representing Smithville, has been discussing duties of the community leaders and a chain of command.

We spent a considerable amount of time studying the maps of Smithville, Weaver County, and the other towns of Longview and McCracken.

As the Smithville leadership, we are trying to come up with a list of our most valuable resources and assets. Similarly, we have been looking for areas or buildings that could serve a purpose during this blackout. Using the booklet of the history of Weaver County has proved to be quite useful, as there are certain sites or activities described there that have given us some good ideas to pursue. We are working under the assumption that each town will work alone and put its own interests first.

Therefore, we are going to focus on the resources and tools we can gather from our immediate area so we do not need to rely on help from other towns. We are wary of the residents of other towns and are considering them a threat for the time being.

Our geographic location may put us at risk because Smithville is located between the towns of Longview and McCracken. For the time being, the Mayor and Chief of Police are trying to keep order and calm the masses.

This is the first 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.

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