cally now require that all distributed resources disconnect from distribution feeders the moment any problems develop. The discussion in chapter 9 identifies current and near-term technological improvements that should be assessed in these planning exercises. For outages of longer duration, the committee believes that local governments should consider how the alternatives of distributed generation, portable generation, and load prioritization might be employed.

In its deliberations, the committee tried to determine the available surge capacity for portable generation. Caterpillar Inc. has a variety of portable diesel and gas-fired generator sets that can be mobilized rapidly. For example, these systems were installed in Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11. However, global demand for such generation sets is large, and manufacturing is currently running at or near capacity. Thus, in the event of an outage of very wide extent and duration, the demand for large portable power sources could easily exceed supply. The committee was unable to determine the status of planning for surge capacity for large backup power sources, for example the use of naval or civilian ships as temporary sources of power for coastal cites if conversion equipment is available. Similarly, diesel electric locomotives5 might be temporarily pressed into emergency service as sources of electric power.

The Importance of Federal Leadership

Potential initiatives at the federal level to reduce social vulnerability in the face of extended loss of electric power include the following:


•   DHS could develop, and then publicly disseminate, a set of strategies and technologies that public and private organizations and individuals might adopt in order to make critical social services of the sort outlined in Table 8.1 less vulnerable in the event of regional power outages of varying durations. Such an advisory document would be especially valuable if it contained specific practice examples and associated cost estimates as well as illustrations of how market forces might be harnessed or incentives might be structured to encourage private initiatives that reduce vulnerability.

•   Congress could provide resources and other incentives to encourage states and cities to form public-private task forces to assess the vulnerability of their vital social services to disruptions in electric power of varying duration. In order to do this, legal arrangements would have to be made to protect sensitive information, and legal and administrative arrangements should be developed to facilitate access to such information that is held by government parties.6

•   Because some investments for better preparedness for extended blackouts are very much in the public interest but may not meet the more limited investment criteria of private firms or local municipalities, federal authorities could consider offering tax breaks or selected subsidies for the incremental costs of some protective systems. For example, although municipalities may choose to convert from conventional traffic lights to LED lights because of the substantial energy and cost savings that can result, they may not be willing to invest in trickle charge battery backup. A federal program, similar to the program developed by the California Energy Commission that covered the incremental cost of trickle charge battery backup for traffic lights along key arteries in dense urban cores, could be useful in this regard, as could a program that would help provide for more extended backup of critically located cell towers.


The process of assessing risks, prioritizing crucial services and critical infrastructure, aligning interests, and securing the cooperation of public and private sector stakeholders is an enormous and challenging task. Since an extended power outage could be local, regional, or involve multiple regions, leadership at the federal level is crucial to the development of flexible and effective plans to address a broad range of possible scenarios. Hence, the conclusions and recommendations in this chapter emphasize the need for this leadership and the close coordination of all levels of government with the private sector to develop robust plans for meeting local and national crucial services in the event of an extended power outage or substantial reduction of grid power.


Finding 8.1 Even if all reasonable steps are taken to ensure the reliability of the electric power transmission and distribution system, and to speed its rapid restoration after outages, there is no way that it can be made completely reliable in the face of major disruption by natural causes or large, well-planned, terrorist attacks. For this reason, and because modern society is increasingly dependent on electric power for the provision of critical social services, steps should be taken to ensure that the most important of these services (see


5The committee learned from a discussion with a representative of Burlington Northern Santa Fe that it does have conversion kits that can allow DC diesel electric locomotives to be used as 60 Hz AC power sources. However, as one might expect, the number of such kits is quite limited, at least within Burlington Northern Santa Fe

6For example, the Census Bureau has arrangements under which serious researchers can gain access to detailed census track data, although it is very sensitive, by providing training and then making those researchers sworn census officers who are legally bound to conform to certain rules to protect sensitive data. To the committee’s knowledge, neither DHS nor any state homeland security organization has developed equivalent arrangements to facilitate access to data they hold.

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