What Happens during a Blackout – an assessment of the consequences of a prolonged and wide-ranging Power Outage in Germany
Infrastructures such as a reliable energy supply, functioning water-supply and wastewater-disposal systems, efficient modes of transport and transport routes and also information technology and telecommunications technology that can be accessed at all times represent the lifeblood of high-technology industrialised nations. The Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment therefore commissioned the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB) to investigate the possible effects of a prolonged and widespread power blackout on highly critical infrastructures such as drinking water, wastewater, information and communications systems, financial services and health services, especially against a backdrop where the blackout has a cascading effect spanning state and national boundaries.
In Germany, several recent natural disasters and technical malfunctions (Elbe and Oder floods in 2002/2005, power blackout in the Münsterland in 2005, the Kyrill storm in 2007) have highlighted the population’s dependence on such (critical) infrastructures. Supply bottlenecks, public safety problems and disruptions to road and rail transport have revealed the vulnerability of modern societies and made extreme demands on health, emergency and rescue services.
Since almost all critical infrastructures rely heavily on a power supply, a scenario of a widespread and prolonged power blackout involving massive disruption to supplies, economic damage and risks to public safety is a very serious matter. In 2004 the National Crisis Management Exercise (LÜKEX) highlighted the problematic consequences and chains of consequences and also the enormous difficulties faced by federal structures in managing such a crisis and threat situation that strikes without any advance warning.
As far as can be seen, however, the possible consequences of such an event have not yet been subject to an in-depth, systematic analysis in the literature or in official documents.
The analyses conducted by the TAB reveal that the consequences of such a power blackout could at least be akin to a national disaster. All internal and external civil protection forces would need to be mobilised in order to at least mitigate the effects.
The TAB report indicates how the resilience of critical infrastructures could be strengthened and how possible courses of action within the national system for disaster management could be improved. The report thus makes a valuable contribution towards heightening awareness of this issue within industry and society and offers the committees of the German Bundestag a sound basis for further consideration.
The Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment The German Bundestag retains the copyright to this publication. Reproduction is authorised, except for commercial purposes, but full acknowledgement is requested.