How good (or rather how bad) was National Geographic’s American Blackout? I would argue pretty bad, even if the film was accurate.
On Sunday Night, National Geographic debut a fictional, cynical, survivalist movie on how Americans would react if there was an extended power outage due to a cyber attack that knocks out power for the entire nation.
The movie was largely billed as “the story of a national power failure in the United States caused by a cyber attack — told in real time, over 10 days, by those who kept filming on cameras and phones. You’ll learn what it means to be absolutely powerless. Gritty, visceral and totally immersive, see what it might take to survive from day one, and who would be left standing when the lights come back on.”
It was nothing more than 120 minutes of needless panic, despair, all designed to stir up fear, uncertainty, and doubt while selling advertisements for survivalist products and other doomsday television series on National Geographic. Largely, American Blackout had familiar themes found in NBC’s television series Revolution.
It was 120 minutes that could have been better spent catching up on sleep or an activity of choice. For those who missed it, consider yourselves fortunate.
First, forget the fact that the cyber attack at most made up five minutes of the entire movie. Some of the facts were simply downright wrong, such as the fact that the North American grid is interconnected between Canada and Mexico. Granted the grids can be separated like it did in 2003 during the North East Blackout, any widespread loss of power would have affected our neighbors to the north and south. We clearly saw how the 2003 North East Blackout affect both Canada and the United States. Moreover, we also know that there likely be select pockets of power online within a relative short period of time. Again, see the 2003 North East Blackout for examples.
Assuming a massive nation-state sponsored successfully coordinated a cyber attack on one part of the North American Electrical Grid, it would not personally surprise me that utilities across the country would respond appropriately to defend themselves. Moreover, a cyber attack of this magnitude would create massive ripples in a matter of hours in the global economy.
The storyline is plausible, only because anything is possible, but it is extremely unlikely and farfetched at best. The storyline itself could have used a number of alternative plots to illustrate the consequences of a long-term power outage.
But more importantly, it was a massive missed opportunity to share and educate how vulnerable any organization or any technology we employ, including the electrical grid, is from a cyber attack. Alas, they rather spend 5 minutes of a 120 minute movie citing a cyber attack that took humanity to the brink of self-destruction.