What “American Blackout” says about preppers and society.
Written by Stephanie Dayle
On October 27th 2013 the National Geographic Channel debuted their new TV movie American Blackout. The setting of the show is American society following a cyber attack induced massive cascading power failure that starts on the east coast and sweeps across the nation to the West Coast. The film then follows several groups of people from the start of the crisis to it’s conclusion. NatGeo reportedly used chunks of real amateur footage from recent disasters like hurricane Sandy throughout the film.
American Blackout is similar in theme to the highly acclaimed and often critiqued 2010 NatGeo docudrama After Armageddon where a family escapes Los Angeles after a flu pandemic has struck and makes their way to Idaho. While American Blackout was an improvement over After Armageddon with a more accurate portrayal of society’s decline, it was also flawed several respects.
Below is the program in full.
- The setting of a massive blackout via cyber attack from an ‘unknown’ source or some other type of attack on the electrical grid is far more plausible than most people would like to think. The electrical grid and our dependence on it continues to be a weak spot in America’s home front infrastructure.
- The four college students that were trapped in the elevator never stopped trying to survive, even without any survival training they continued to think outside of the “someone will come save me” box. This was fairly believable and I found myself caring whether the kids made it out or not.
- The rate at which society declines was brutally honest, realistic and not romanticized. Some mainstream media write-ups have already reviewed it as “far fetched” however, I think in some areas society would decline even faster than the standard nine meals (aka: 3 days without food).
- The show made a good effort to link the chaos and violence on society’s dependence on government provided infrastructure. Something as simple as ‘no tap water’ will drive people to violence in giant urban centers where there is no other convenient or safe sources of water, especially in warm climates.
- The crisis on the film lasted 10 days, SEVEN DAYS LONGER than FEMA’s common recommendation for the amount of emergency food and water to be stored each home. Most prepper’s feel FEMA’s recommendations for food and water are woefully inadequate.
- The government could not help everyone. The scope of the disaster hopelessly overwhelmed them and they could not help much at all – but amusing promises of “a fair distribution of resources” continued. I found this portrayal to be simplistic but fairly believable.
- After approximately ten days the power comes back on and people “magically” calm down, cease rioting and break off their attacks on others. Anyone caught in the midst of a disaster situation, especially those who lived through hurricane Sandy and Katerina, can tell you that the power coming back on does not instantly resolve a crisis. The resolution in the film just reinforces society’s false belief that even the worst crisis is merely temporary and can be resolved by the government.
- The prepper family putting their 10 year-old boy on guard duty alone, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a fairly serious crisis with their security already compromised. I am not aware of any preppers that would do that, but it made for fairly good ratings which after all, was the end goal of the program.
- The “finish your food” scene in the prepper family’s bunker was horrible – it didn’t do the audience or the program any good.
- The weather was seemingly warm and sunny all over the nation when the power went off and this perfect weather continued for the next ten days. What are the chances of the weather being so perfect everywhere? Not real high – now picture a nationwide power outage for ten days or longer in the middle of the winter, or during a storm.
- The lone wolf style prepper family in the docudrama were portrayed as being well prepared, but also as selfish doofuses. NatGeo is generally perceived to be sympathetic to the emergency preparedness cause, but I believe for whatever reason this was done on purpose.
- This overall portrayal of the prepper family was achieved through the placement of key characters such as the stern (perhaps borderline verbally abusive) Dad, and the free spirit boyfriend who “only wanted to help others”. The portrayal was further reinforced through the constant switching of scenes which creatively and starkly contrasts how little everyone else had with how much the preppers had – and yet they were unwilling to help (aka “share“).
While there may be prepper families out there who would behave in a similar fashion during a crisis, I believe they are few and far between. For years now the prepping community has seen a boom in the concept of “prepper networks” and “community prepping” which is widely recognized as a more effective approach that would likely yield a higher rate of survival.
“It turns out that you can prepare for the end of the world, but little problems — variables you didn’t plan on facing, loopholes you didn’t close — can leave you in just as much of a hole as everyone else.” -By Liane Bonin Starr at hitfix.com
The implications of this portrayal is that like other TV shows and movies, it alters the public’s view of preppers and about emergency preparedness. People who watch this show may come to the conclusion of “Why bother prepping at all then? They didn’t do any better than anyone else?” which is unfortunate. Others may come to the conclusion that preppers, even those with plenty of guns and a bunker, are a fairy easy target who can be easily outsmarted and overcome. This just makes the world that much more dangerous for those of us who have taken the responsibility to prepare for the worst.
Blackout Lessons for Newbies
- Water, water, water – everyone needs an emergency supply PLUS a way to get more water. Especially if you live in a warm/humid climate. What would YOU do if there was no more tap water, anywhere?
- If it’s already too late to get out of the city, network with your neighbors for safety and lay low. Simple human curiosity gets alot people in trouble. Lay low, stay home, stay safe.
- Avoid partying during blackouts, they burn through supplies and put you at risk from lack of sleep and dehydration.
- At the very minimum have a two week supply of food at your home/location, and a way to prepare that food without electricity. Click here to learn how to establish and use a three month supply of food.
- Have a first aid kit in your home and at the very least, a basic knowledge of first aid.
- Cash is golden. Of course if a black out lasts long enough even cash will become worthless, but initially it will be the way to go if you are in need of last minute supplies.
- Be prepared, and hopefully you won’t have to go to a store with a mob of people who are on the verge of hysteria for last minute supplies. Click here to get started!
- In an emergency shut the iPhone video camera off and be aware of your surroundings.
- Remember your safety and your family’s safety is ultimately your responsibility, and no one else’s.
For those who would completely dismiss the usefulness of shows like this I say, knowledge is power. Think of it like this – while there are moments in history we can examine, there is no modern ‘playbook’ for us. We can look at The Great Depression, Argentina and Bosnia, but the logistics are different here in the US and in modern times. Therefore watching shows like American Blackout, After Armageddon or movies like Trigger Effect…. is akin to a football team sitting down and watching a game recently played. We can break it down, discuss we would do differently, improvements that could be made upon weak spot, and identify things that need to be taken into consideration.
As long as a situation of this magnitude is not romanticized or longed for – this analytical look is a healthy metal exploration. However, it should be taken with a gain of salt because at the end of the day you are only watching what someone else THINKS might happen and their opinion is strongly influenced on what would make for better ratings. What did you think of American Blackout? Leave a comment and let us know!