Update: Outages now confirmed in Los Angeles as well. The likelihood of the three major outages being unrelated seems very low, causing speculation to morph from fears of an EMP weapon to a cyber attack on the electrical grid. Authorities continue to say the source is unknown, and that the simultaneous outages are a coincidence.
With fear of WWIII running rampant due to the escalating North Korea situation, a major blackout in San Francisco affecting tens of thousands of customers is causing scattered concerns than an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, has been used by North Korea or other actors in an attack on the United States. An attack of this nature could be achieved by detonating a nuclear weapon high above a city, and would knock out all electronic systems — potentially irreperably.
The blackout is causing some degree of chaos. With the city’s subway (BART) system mostly down and many traffic lights not operational, traffic and commerce are experiencing major congestion. Further stoking fears is a near-simultaneous blackout on the opposite coast, this one affecting major lines on New York City’s subway system and causing troubles of their own.
While likely to be nothing more than hysteria caused by heightened fear of global conflict, the blackouts may represent something more. The story is ongoing, and authorities say they are working continually to determine the cause. A local CBS affiliate reported that a fire was found at a utility substation, but it is not known if this is a factor contributing to the blackout.
Meanwhile, an upcoming disaster drill dubbed Operation Gotham Shield will be held on April 24th-26th. It aims to simulate nuclear attacks on New York City and elsewhere in order to test the preparedness of response teams. The timing of the drill is amplifying concerns that the threat of a very major attack should be taken seriously, or even that authorities already know of an imminent attack that they are concealing from the public.
It seems incredibly unlikely that North Korean attack fears have been realized, but the concern certainly says a great deal about public perception of recent geopolitical developments. Hopefully a less terrifying reason than an EMP will be discovered for the San Francisco blackout, and the coming weeks will pass without the outbreak a major attack — or that World War that so many have been Googling and Tweeting about lately.