Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave her farewell speech last week. She had quite a bit to say, but there was one thing that caught my attention: She warned that a major cyberattack is on the way.
I believe it. Most major U.S. companies have been under siege from hackers over the last 18 months.
In fact, two days after Napolitano's speech, a hacker group called the Syrian Electronic Army hacked the New York Times' website and Twitter feed, for the second time this year.
Of course, Napolitano wasn't just talking about American business. She was talking about America's infrastructure: power grid, communications, banking and so forth.
Every one of these services relies on computers. A well-placed virus could do a lot of damage, especially if an insider planted it.
The Northeast blackout of 2003 started at a single power center. A computer bug disabled an important alarm. The operators couldn't react in time to a downed power line and it blacked out 55 million people for several days.
Imagine waking up one morning with no power. Cellphones can't connect, banks are closed, the Internet is down and credit cards don't work.
In localized emergencies, workers from other areas help to restore services quickly. A cyberattack could affect wide regions of the country, overwhelming the available manpower. It could take days, weeks or months for basic services to be fully restored. Not a pretty picture.
Now, a cyberattack might not take down everything, but it could make basic services unreliable. You won't be able to trust technology to always work.
That's why you need a backup plan for your family. I would plan for at least 30 days of limited to nonexistent services.
Keep a supply of water and canned food on hand, along with a first aid kit. Knowing exactly what other survival tools to include can be difficult.
Fortunately, the government has a site to help you plan your disaster kit at www.ready.gov.
Your emergency kit should contain cash. After all, debit and credit cards may not work.
Keep important documents within easy reach, too. You may not be able to get to documents stored on your computer.
So, keep physical copies in a small safe near your disaster kit.
Being separated from your family is worrying, particularly in emergencies. So, your family needs to determine a gathering point. You might not have Facebook, Twitter or texting available to help you coordinate.
In a disaster, remember it's better to text than to voice call. Texts use less information so they don't overwhelm local cellular towers. Plus, texts can wait to send, so they'll still get through without your constant attention.
In localized disasters, it is often easier to contact people outside the area. So, designate an out-of-town relative as a contact person.
However, as we saw in Hurricane Sandy, cellular towers aren't as robust as traditional landlines. So, don't count on your cellphone working reliably.
Go to www.komando.com/apps/category.aspx?id=14019 for apps that can help provide essential information in an emergency.
I would have one or more sets of two-way radios. They'll work in any situation. Be sure to choose a channel to use in advance. Choose a second one in case the first is in use. And be sure to stock up on batteries.
An AM/FM radio is another essential for any emergency kit. Radio stations have generators and can still keep broadcasting important information when other communication systems fail.
Choose a radio that can be powered by hand crank or solar power. Some can even charge other gadgets, like cellphones. Make sure the radio is capable of receiving NOAA weather alerts as well.
If you have young children, be sure to write instructions down for them. This can help if they're at school when disaster strikes.
For kids old enough to have a cellphone, make a note with the instructions and store it on their phone as a file or picture. Don't count on them remembering where to meet or what to do.
Whether a cyberattack ever happens, these are still good planning ideas. You never know when another kind of disaster might strike. A little preparation now might save your life, or a loved one's life, later.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.
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