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Services blackout a danger

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Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave her farewell speech last week. She had quite a bit to say, but there was one thing that caught my attention: She warned that a major cyberattack is on the way.

I believe it. Most major U.S. companies have been under siege by hackers during the last 18 months.

Of course, Napolitano wasn't just talking about American business. She was talking about America's infrastructure: power grid, communications, banking and so forth.

Every one of these services relies on computers.

The Northeast blackout of 2003 started at a single power center. A computer bug disabled an important alarm. The operators couldn't react in time to a downed power line, and it blacked out 55 million people for several days.

Imagine waking up one morning with no power. Cellphones can't connect, banks are closed, the Internet is down and credit cards don't work.

A cyberattack could affect wide regions of the country, overwhelming the available manpower. It could take days, weeks or months for basic services to be fully restored.

Now, a cyberattack might not take down everything, but it could make basic services unreliable. You won't be able to trust technology to always work.

That's why you need a backup plan. Plan for at least 30 days of limited to nonexistent services.

Keep a supply of water and canned food on hand, along with a first-aid kit. Knowing exactly what other survival tools to include can be difficult. Fortunately, the government has a site — at www.ready.gov — to help you plan your disaster kit.

Your emergency kit should contain cash. Credit cards may not work.

Keep important documents within easy reach, too. You may not be able to get to documents stored on your computer.

Being separated from your family is worrying, particularly in emergencies. So, your family needs to determine a gathering point. You might not have Facebook, Twitter or texting available to help you coordinate.

In a disaster, remember it's better to text than to voice call. Texts use less information, so they don't overwhelm local cellular towers. Plus, texts can wait to send, so they'll get through without your constant attention. However, as we saw in Hurricane Sandy, cellular towers aren't as robust as traditional landlines. So don't count on your cellphone working reliably.

I would have one or more sets of two-way radios. They'll work in any situation. Be sure to choose a channel to use in advance. Choose a second one in case the first is in use. And be sure to stock up on batteries.

An AM/FM radio is another essential for any emergency kit. Radio stations have generators and can keep broadcasting important information when other communication systems fail.

Choose a radio that can be powered by hand crank or solar power. Make sure the radio is capable of receiving NOAA weather alerts, as well.

Whether or not a cyberattack ever happens, these are still good planning ideas. You never know when another kind of disaster might strike. A little preparation now might save your life — or a loved one's life — later.

Email Kim Komando at techcomments@usatoday.com.

 

 
 


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