One of the themes in Helios is the vulnerability of our national grid, the network of electric power lines, transfer stations, etc., etc., that are critical in delivering electricity from where it's produced to where it's used.
The Helios Conspiracy is a novel, not a polemic or a journalistic exploration, so most of that is addressed tangentially, in the tradition of "show don't tell." I also avoided directly spelling out details of the problems, since honestly the grid is so vulnerable even oblique references could be used as a map by an enemy to cause quite a lot of damage. Still, the problems are shocking and even frightening. Not only would a carefully coordinated attack cause millions of dollars of damage, even a haphazard one could disrupt lives for weeks.
And few people seem to realize it, let alone are alarmed.
But recently there have been a number of stories pointing out the vulnerabilities, increasing public awareness, and noting that finally someone is finally paying attention. Here's one, from this morning's NY Times:
. . . this week the industry and the government have been carrying out an emergency drill unlike any that electrical engineers can remember, to explore how quickly the country could recover from a crippling blow to the power grid. Twelve trucks drove 800 miles from St. Louis to Houston to deliver three “recovery transformers.” When they arrived on Tuesday afternoon, workers began to install them as quickly as possible — reducing a task that normally takes weeks to several days.
“If you have to order a transformer from someplace, it’s two years to do it,” said Richard J. Lordan, a senior technical expert at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit consortium based in Palo Alto, Calif.
Transformers were seen as a potential problem to the grid as far back as 1990, said Sarah Mahmood, a program manager at the Department of Homeland Security, which paid for about half of the cost of the $17 million drill, with the rest picked up by the electrical industry. Transformers are about the size of a one-car garage and usually painted some drab industrial color, but without them, intersecting power lines would be like elevated highways with no interchanges.
Actually, it would be more like highways where you could never get gas as well, but the story is excellent. Check it out here.
It's not exactly a sexy problem, but it has to be addressed.