Robyn Gershon, a public-health professor at N.Y.U. who specializes in disaster preparedness, concedes that, in the age of global warming, it is not so outlandish to be thinking about the apocalypse. Per the “push-pulse theory of extinction”—a theory devised to explain the mass death of the dinosaurs—any strain on an ecosystem leaves the species in it far more vulnerable to cataclysm. Today, climate change and rising sea levels put us at greater risk of being wiped out by a disastrous event, such as a pandemic or a supervolcano.
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Experts worry most about the grid’s nervous system: 2,000 extra-high voltage transformers. They’re 200- and 300-ton behemoths, individually engineered to meet specific power demands, and on average, they’re 40 years old. Notwithstanding the fact that 85 percent of transformers are imported, the U.S. Department of Energy says it takes between 5 and 16 months to replace a single one. According to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, an attack that destroyed nine of the 2,000 transformers would “cause a protracted nationwide blackout.” There’s no national cache of spare transformers.
I also began to realize that I needed to prep for something that's increasingly as likely as earthquakes: large-scale civil unrest, which I witnessed a taste of in the streets that night. I began to think of how people act when they're scared, including and especially law enforcement. I started to think about home security, transportation options if fuel was limited, how to access information without the internet. I studied natural disasters and their repercussions around the world as a way to understand how to keep myself and my community safer.
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