Review: “Lights Out” by Ted Koppel


9780553419962Lights Out: A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel. Crown Books. 280 pages.

Amazing. This is my second non-science-fiction book in a row to read and review. I must be changing my ways. But then again, former ABC News Nightline anchor Ted Koppell dares to tackle a topic that most would throw automatically into the realm of science fiction and asks seriously, is this something we need to worry about?

What he’s talking about is an attack on the powergrid in the United States. Actually, there are three powergrids in the nation, and crippling part or all of any of them would be devastating to millions of people for not just days, but weeks and possibly months. Going without electricity would cripple us and discontinue transportation, communication, water, sewage, health care, and pretty much everything else we take for granted in our society.

So how likely is it that someone–say North Korea, Iran, or ISIS–could take our our power grid? Koppel asks multiple government officials in agencies like FEMA, Homeland Security, and other knowledgable places, and the frightening answer comes back, “Pretty likely.” Al Qaeda supposedly has $2 billion available to them, and where there is money, there are always ways to get things done.

The most likely way would be through a virus similar to Stuxnet, the attack by Israel and the U.S. that halted Iran’s nuclear capability, or the reciprocating attack by Iran on Aramco in Saudi Arabia that destroyed 30,000 computers. We read about hacks going on every day. At what point do we need to worry about our own power?

Koppel goes on, in painful detail, to interview officials and determine that even if this were to happen, the federal government has no contingency plan to follow up on this disaster. In fact, if there’s any flaw in the book, it is how thorough Koppel is in proving his point. At one point, the book seems to slow because of this. The first half of the book is spent just proving the point that we are up a poorly named creek without a paddle.

The second part I found more interesting, and was the obvious second step. What solutions did he have? He traveled to Wyoming and talked to some “preppers” there (what used to be called survivalists, but are far less political in nature today) who have spend close to half a million dollars preparing for the apocalypse. Then he travels to Salt Lake City to visit with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, learning about their organization and how survival is ingrained in their heritage.

The book strikes me as possibly a text version of what could have been a ABC Nightline special, and it might have been in a shorter version. I would have liked to see some of these interviews in video. Most of it is thought provoking; some of it is frightening.

I give it four stars out of five.

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