Anyone that lives on the east coast of Australia will know first hand how battered we got over the weekend. Houses on beaches are on the verge of collapse while others across the state have been completely flooded. The NSW State Emergency Service conducted 280 flood rescues and received around 9,000 calls.
Of course, the knock-on effects of such an event are often felt beyond the destruction of property. From a financial standpoint, insurer stocks took a beating on the stock market and many are bracing for a huge number of claims over the coming weeks.
But one thing that really struck a chord with me was just how technologically dependent we’ve become as a society, and how how fragile that dependence is.
The wild weather took down a number of financial services, with ATM’s and EFTPOS facilities copping the brunt of the chaos. It left shoppers unable to pay for their groceries, petrol and restaurant bills.
A number of popular websites also went down after the Sydney wing of Amazon Web Services experienced a heap of connectivity issues.
And as we do when we’re pissed off, we use social media to complain. One ME customer expressed their disdain for the downed service on the bank’s Facebook page.
“Thanks for that ME. Had a very embarrassing moment at the cafe when I went to pay. Thank God someone had my back and could pay my bill. Can you send a letter to the cafe — where I’m a regular — and apologise for your poor service.”
First of all, let’s just acknowledge how incredibly first-world this problem is. Secondly, people are losing their fucking homes and you’re angry about a minor inconvenience?
Sure, I understand that these services are expected to work flawlessly around the clock, but when the rain outside is falling at a near 90-degree angle, I’d hope you can understand that even financial infrastructure is not impervious to dangerous weather.
Also, the café doesn’t want a stupid letter of apology from your bank. Please move on with your life.
Aside from my obvious bewilderment, I started to wonder; what would we do in the event of a major disaster if we can’t even handle a relatively benign storm?
If we suddenly lost all power for an extended period of time, how would our society function? Most of us wouldn’t be able to work, I only have about $20 cash on me at any given time and our mobile phones would be useless.
We are so utterly dependent on the technology we use every day that if it were to disappear, we actually wouldn’t know what to do. Everything from law enforcement to food production relies heavily on technology and electricity to function. Cities would surely be thrown into complete chaos.
If you had to flee as a result, would you know how to gather food? Suture a wound? Build a shelter? Find your way around without Google Maps? It’s a sobering thought to say the least.
Even factors that are completely outside of our control could cripple power networks. Solar flares, for example, have knocked out grids in the past, and will likely do it again:
“One of the best-known examples of space weather events is the collapse of the Hydro-Québec power network on March 13, 1989 due to geomagnetically induced currents (GICs). Caused by a transformer failure, this event led to a general blackout that lasted more than 9 hours and affected over 6 million people. The geomagnetic storm causing this event was itself the result of a CME ejected from the sun on March 9, 1989.”
Granted, this was a minor occurrence, but space weather can really fuck with us. In fact, the White House has a plan in place for the very real possibility of a solar flare that could wipe out power for months.
So what do we do to combat this horrifying idea of total mob-rule in such a scenario? I don’t have a clue, but our complacency is scary. Maybe we all need to watch more Bear Grylls?
So the next time you take to Facebook to complain about a power outage, just remember; we’re all one big solar flare away from total darkness.