Last week, I sat nestled in my apartment reading about our Magic City trapped in the clutches of a winter nightmare (two inches of snow) when I had a revelation: picking up beer on the way home from work would have been so clutch. After that first revelation, I had a more important one: our country is waiting to be left crippled like a 70-year-old NFL veteran.
If there is one thing that Birmingham’s shutdown should tell you it is how vulnerable our infrastructure is, and how much we rely on said infrastructure. Across the South, major interstates were brought to a standstill as abandoned cars littered the lanes. Tractor trailers carrying goods and supplies were stuck on the roadways for hours as the traffic backed up on itself. Essential emergency services were hampered from doing their job as navigating roadways turned into a slalom intersecting oncoming lanes.
It made me realize how much damage could be done to our economy, and our car-based way of life if something happened to our precious asphalt.
Do You Know the Way to San Jose?
A little less than a year ago something happened in San Jose that piqued the interest of national security experts around the country. This is remarkable because this is the only time San Jose has piqued the interest of anybody.
Somebody, or somebodies broke in to a power station to wreak havoc. They cut lines underground and disabled more than a dozen transformers with rounds from a rifle. The ensuing power outage was not felt by many as it was in the middle of the night, also it’s San Jose so who really cares that much anyways. Yet it took nearly a month for the repairs to be made. How in the heck does this relate to a snow storm in Alabama a year later?
Doomsday with No Milk
What the attack on a power station in California shows is just how easy it would be to knock out power and create a mass outage. What the snowstorm in Alabama shows is just how quickly a major metropolitan area could fall to chaos when its lifelines are cut off. Now put the two together with a dash of terrorism and we arrive at a scary though.
Imagine: a terrorist group simultaneously detonates a few explosive devices on highway overpasses and major train corridors. At the same time, the group infiltrates a number of power stations and knocks out electricity for the region. This is not some glamour attack where cameras capture the bloody devastation in a public place — rather, it targets areas that are taken for granted as afterthoughts security-wise. What follows would be chaos.
Power outages would spread as the power companies struggle to meet demands and reroute the flow. Traffic would snarl as a major highway or two would be rendered useless, the backed-up traffic would effectively lengthen emergency service response time. The effects of an attack would compound on themselves. The goods that are delivered via truck and rail would be stuck and soon local businesses would suffer. It’s astounding how the things we need the most are protected the least.
A scenario like that would need repairs that would take at least a month as evidenced by the San Jose incident. Since we are talking about Alabama, we can be assured that any roadway repairs would take upwards of a century.
Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure
One can only hope that a scenario described above would be thwarted, or that the effects would fall short of the worst case. That being said, it is vitally important that we invest more in our infrastructure for a number of reasons.
Firstly, we need to be able to rely on what drives our country — literally and figuratively. Our society is dependent on traveling via car and is built on electricity, an attack on those things would do far more damage than a coward’s shoe-filled explosive.
Most importantly, investment in shoring up the electrical grid and the roadways will only make our economy and country better. Finding better ways to travel, and more reliable deliveries of power can only help. An investment in them would do good, not evil.
My snow filled revelation should not be a serious threat, but it is time for our government to get serious about improving our antiquated roadways and electrical grids.