Fear of power outages: Crisis researchers advise preparing for “blackouts” in winter
Many people are afraid of widespread power outages this winter. But what would happen in a blackout? How are the authorities prepared and what do citizens absolutely need to know? Crisis researcher Frank Roselieb provides answers.
Some speak of “scaremongering”, others seriously warn of dark hours or even days in Germany. This means widespread power failures in winter 2022/23.
In fact, concerns about blackouts have never been greater. In the midst of the energy crisis, many people are afraid of suddenly sitting in the dark and freezing for days.
Crisis researchers explain what happens in a “blackout”.
FOCUS online asked the Kiel crisis researcher Frank Roselieb which scenarios are conceivable, which measures would then take effect and how citizens should best prepare for such a case. The expert differentiates between three phases when a longer-lasting “blackout” occurs:
- In the first phase the state would first take care of particularly sensitive people – i.e. centralize home ventilation patients and home dialysis patients and provide additional emergency power generators for hospitals. “For this phase, ‘normal’ citizens should make provisions themselves in the household. On the one hand, this applies to drinking water, because the pump systems will soon fail. On the other hand, stocks of long-lasting food that are ready for consumption without electricity and heat are helpful – for example crispbread and rusks, but also oatmeal, UHT milk and preserved fruit,” recommends the crisis expert.
Disaster control erects “supply beacons”
- In the second phase after about 24 to 48 hours, the civil protection then erects “supply beacons”. The police, fire brigade and aid organizations are available at market places and in central locations. “Here, citizens can also find out where the food distribution starts. The federal government has around 150 warehouses in Germany for this purpose,” says Roselieb. “The primary products for bread production, such as grain, but also rice and legumes for pea soup are stored there. The fire brigade also opens the emergency wells, as the drinking water supply is usually interrupted by failed pumps.”
- In the third phase – after about 72 hours at the latest – curfews would probably be necessary because public safety threatens to collapse in the event of very long “blackout” phases. “Then, to put it bluntly, the equation ‘blackout = civil war’ applies here,” said Frank Roselieb to FOCUS online. “Estonia experienced this in April 2007, when Russian hackers cut the Internet connections. At the same time, the capital Tallinn was shaken by violent demonstrations and unrest lasting several days. In this phase, too, citizens are again increasingly dependent on their own supplies.”
When it comes to personal provision, in view of a possible “blackout”, people should again rely more on analogue instead of digital provision – i.e. have drinking water supplies, flashlights and candles at home, advises Roselieb. “Even a bag or two of gummy bears or a bar of chocolate can’t hurt and help through dark times.”
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The crisis researcher is convinced that Germany is well prepared for “blackouts”. In a scenario that has always been considered the “worst case” of all disasters in civil protection, the worst case. While the infrastructure is largely preserved in a pandemic, everything collapses in a “blackout”. No electricity, no water, no heat, no communication.
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The preparation is correspondingly extensive. “Here we differentiate between three ‘lines of defence’,” explains the expert.
- The first line is the municipal area – i.e. districts, urban districts and the local utility companies. These have mostly prepared quite extensively on the one hand as part of civil protection and on the other hand as a critical infrastructure in the context of risk prevention.
Government agencies are already promoting stockpiling
- The second level are the leading ministries – for example the Ministry of the Interior for the police and civil protection, as well as the Ministry of Energy for the utilities. This also includes contacts with federal institutions such as the Federal Agency for Technical Relief or voluntary organizations such as the Malteser, Johanniter, the DLRG and the Red Cross. People and material are available here at all times. In addition, these organizations have often practiced “live” in the event of a “blackout” during real disaster operations abroad – for example after earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
- The third line of defense are the state chancellery – i.e. prime minister – and the federal government. They have been preparing the topic intensively for months. Since September 12, 2022, the Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, has been calling for energy saving in the “Cleverländ” campaign. “At the federal level, there will be a national warning day on December 8, 2022 to raise people’s awareness of possible crisis situations,” said Roselieb. The Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance is already advertising the stockpiling with large posters in supermarket parking lots and is making the book “Cooking without electricity” available.
Citizens’ concerns are understandable, but probably unfounded
Frank Roselieb can understand the fear of many people of “blackouts” in Germany, although he considers the risk of such incidents to be rather low. The transmission system operators in Germany, who have run through various scenarios for the security of the power supply for the coming winter on behalf of the federal government, see it in a similar way. They don’t expect a blackout either.
Overall, Roselieb recommends citizens to remain calm. “With the experience of a quarter of a century in a top position in crisis research in Germany, I recommend a solid mix of personal provision on the one hand and robust basic trust in the state and society on the other.